Sanjay Dutt saga awaits a filmy climax

Posted In : Gossips, Scandals
(added 05 Apr 2013)

One of the general observations about creativity is that art imitates life. In Bollywood, however, life imitates cinema, producing the melodramatic, the sentimental, and creating an air of the unreal by shifting realities. Such a process is clear in the case of Sanjay Dutt. He is that strange Indian phenomenon, the male who looks and behaves like an adolescent till 30 and then quickly thickens to a beefy adulthood. His childhood signalled to all the makings of a rowdy, a classroom bully given to tantrums and brawls and yet someone who had something redeeming about him. He lacked the grace of his parents and the correctness of his sister, Priya Dutt. He was, as a wag put it, “larger than life” and could have played the Neanderthal caveman in a Tarzan movie.

Sanjay Dutt saga awaits a filmy climax

Yet, in private, people found him shy, puzzled, even innocent. He had friends who always stood up for him. When Sanjay Dutt was first accused of being a terrorist, a wise Sunil Dutt played this down by saying his son did not have the intelligence for it. I guess the father realised that Sanjay was a dumbed-down version of him, possessing a crude sense of machismo without his father’s grace. His sister Priya claimed that the year of the Bombay blasts was a strange period full of threats, fears and suspicions. Sanjay was both Hindu and Muslim, and yet his Muslim self felt anxious. As a young Indian he must have thought that his double-edged identity was cursed, creating a confused world where adulthood was demanded and yet, strangely, unattainable. Driven by fear and a certain sense of bravura, the young adolescent used his contacts to buy an impressive armoury of guns and bombs.

What made his possessions questionable was that they were obtained from a consignment organised by Dawood Ibrahim. A lethal armoury and a lethal connection was enough to order his arrest in the aftermath of the blast. It is true he did not use the guns, but it may also be true that he signalled a totemic solidarity with them. A man who hammed his way through life might have hammed around with his armoury, delivering empty dialogue from some future cameo. His middle years were haunted by a broken marriage and a court case that badgered him for over two decades, sending him to jail and bringing him occasionally out for public display. The adolescent boy grew up to be a beefy man who captured memorable roles like Munna Bhai in Munna Bhai MBBS, and the villain Kancha Cheena playing a perfect equal to Hrithik Roshan in the new Agneepath. Sadly, his presence was accompanied by cameo attendances in court.

The latter must have dented his sense of pride and dignity and made him wonder why justice prolongs itself unnecessarily like a prime-time TV serial. Twenty years later, a verdict arrived, bringing closure to one of the stormiest and most tragic events in India — the 1993 serial Bombay blasts. Sanjay Dutt was sentenced to five years of imprisonment for possession of arms. His sentence sparked of a debate about the fairness of justice. Justice Markandey Katju claimed that while Sanjay was wrong, he was entitled to pardon as he did not use his weapons to harm anyone. Bollywood, with crores of rupees tied in projects involving the actor, hoped for a cinematic miracle where justice and sentiment could co-exist. One must emphasise that it is not that people felt the judgment was unfair. They merely argued the legal nature of the judgement could have considered the biography of the individual.

Congress general secretary Digvijay Singh seemed to hint that a frightened adolescent should not be seen as a terrorist. The main discomfort was that the judgment was a bad end to a fairytale. Sanjay Dutt in jail would spell the end of one of the most romantic stories of Bollywood, the marriage of Nargis and Sunil Dutt, seen as the greatest cinematic fairytale. There was also realism to the cinematic response. People pointed out that the accused was a frightened adolescent and the man sentenced is a beefy 40-year-old making sense of life through a second marriage and children. The disparity of time thus created a certain discordance. It was as if justice had become a belated piece of news. The trial and sentence of Sanjay Dutt had all the tensions of a Bollywood movie. In a miraculous way, Bolly­wood always reconciled town and village, justice and sentiment, public and private.

Sanjay combined that world of opposites by being a split personality, being both the bully and the hero, adolescent and adult, violent and law-abiding. It is almost as if India wanted a second trial, a cinematic adalat to try him, where the protagonist presents the mitigating factors. One wanted an ending where the rule of law was upheld but a miraculous power pardoned him at the last minute. One wants to see how the political elite will act. Will it modify his sentence or obtain a presidential pardon? Or will the rule of law proceed implacably with judgement? One is forced to ask the old Orwellian question — whether some are more equal than others in India today. If the law pardons him, then it will have to answer other accused who did not get the same VIP treatment. Either way, one will have to wait for that sense of ending which feels both aesthetic and complete. Time is rife with questions waiting for answers.

(added 05 Apr 2013) / 1304 views

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