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Book excerpt: How Sunil and Sanjay Dutt came together for Munna Bhai MBBS

The new book by author Yasser Usman encapsulates the stranger-than-fiction story of actor Sanjay Dutt, who bounced from rock bottom numerous times, to rebuild his life once again. 

Our Correspondent

After stars Rajesh Khanna and Rekha, author Yasser Usman has focused on the life of actor Sanjay Dutt, who has had several ups and downs in his life and career. In his new book, Sanjay Dutt: The Crazy Untold Story of Bollywood’s Bad Boy, Usman takes a look at his pampered upbringing as the oldest child of artistes Sunil Dutt and Nargis, his battle with drugs and alcohol, his involvement in 1993 Mumbai bomb blasts (he was convicted of illegal possession of weapons and served a five-year sentence), and his uneven film career.

The book also examines Sanjay’s relationship with the most important people in his life — his family, his wives (Richa Sharma, Rhea Pillai, and Manyata Dutt) and his colleagues. Usman delves into his faltering connection with his father as Sanjay was closer to his mother, Nargis. However, as he grew older, he began to appreciate all what his father had done. In 2003, the two of them appeared together in Rajkumar Hirani’s Munna Bhai MBBS, easily the role of a lifetime for the actor. The onscreen relationship reflected what father and son felt offscreen as well. 

Excerpt below:

But the biggest casting coup pulled off by the producer and director was the signing of Sunil Dutt to play Sanjay’s father. Although Sunil and Sanjay had appeared together in films before, they had never shared the same frame — they were both part of Sanjay’s debut film Rocky (1981), in which Sunil’s character dies early, and later Kshatriya (1993), where Sunil had a guest appearance. Sunil was fond of Vinod [Chopra] and so when he asked him to play Sanjay’s upright father in Munna Bhai MBBS (2003), Sunil agreed, despite the fact that he was having difficulty walking after the plane crash. The film must have also been close to Sunil’s heart because Sanjay’s and his roles were accurate reflections of the true nature of their relationship.

Sunil was happy, if a little nervous, to be back in front of the camera after more than a decade. He said to Sanjay, ‘Yaar, pata nahi mai kahan politics mei aa gaya [I don’t know why I ever got into politics], this is my life.’ Boman Irani, who played Dr Asthana, the dean of the medical college in Munna Bhai, recounted the first day of shooting with Sunil and how the entire crew ‘clapped for him. It was a lovely moment.’ Director Raju Hirani recalled that in spite of his ill health, Sunil ‘came very prepared . . . When he walked on to the set he knew his lines, left, right and centre.’

Sanjay was known for roles in which he played either a goon or a ‘bhai’, a Mumbai strongman-criminal. On the surface Munna Bhai MBBS appeared like one of Sanjay’s usual films. Priya Dutt said, ‘When we heard about Munna Bhai MBBS, we thought this is one more gangster movie and he is going to play one “bhai” in the film. We were like “Okay! another film like that.”’ But Munna Bhai MBBS, in fact, changed the public perception about Sanjay. He was seen as a man capable of reform; he was seen as someone who, despite the mistakes he had made, was essentially good at heart and well meaning. From the bratty Sanju Baba, he became the lovable Munna Bhai. There is no doubt that Munna Bhai is the film of Sanjay’s career.

Priya recalled Sanjay campaigning for her in 2005: his popularity was soaring and ‘there was frenzy’. Sanjay recounted, ‘I never used to give a speech. I used to say, “Apun bolta hai ki apun ki behen ko vote dene ka. Bole toh? [You must vote for my sister. What do you say?]” They [the crowd] said, “Vote dene ka! [We’ll vote for her!]”’ The casting for the film turned out to be perfect.

The chemistry between Munna Bhai and Circuit was outstanding. Boman Irani was excellent as the dean of the medical college. But the most moving scenes were between father and son. In the film’s simple yet moving climax, Sunil asks his son to hug him. Viewers don’t realize how painful the shoot was for Sunil due to his accident. Raju Hirani said, ‘I called for action and he didn’t move. We cut the camera. I said action again. We realised he couldn’t move his arms. Sanjay was extremely worried. He said, 'Pack up, let’s take him to the hospital'. But Sunil Dutt insisted he would finish the shot.’ He sat down for a while, had a cup of tea and got back up with great difficulty. Raju further said, ‘I knew he was in pain, but he insisted. He lifted his hand with great effort.’ The film’s unit was mighty impressed by his old-school discipline and professionalism. When they hugged, it seemed as if the testing times, the struggles, the tears had been left behind. Priya and Namrata Dutt too talk about the scene fondly. ‘That’s a very emotional scene because Papa and Bhaiya — their relationship was like that. The whole relationship shown in Munna Bhai was very similar to what Papa and Bhaiya had.’

The scene — a repentant son making his father proud — seemed to be a real moment of catharsis for Sunil and Sanjay. According to Raju, it was Sunil who insisted that the scene be reinforced with a hug and the dialogue, ‘Tumne apni ma ko to bahut baar jaadu ki jhappi di hai. Aaj apne baap ke gale bhi lag ja. [You have hugged your mother many times, today give your father a hug as well.]’ When asked if he remembers that moment, Sanjay’s eyes turned moist. ‘It was as if he wanted to say something to me. But he couldn’t. . . He hugged me tightly. He never used to show his love for me. But that day he just let it go.’

This extract from Sanjay Dutt: The Crazy Untold Story of Bollywood’s Bad Boy has been published with permission from Juggernaut Books.