Article Hindi

30 years of Saajan: How the love triangle became a game-changer for Sanjay Dutt

Authors Yasser Usman and Ram Kamal Mukherjee have analysed the film's impact in their respective books on the star.

Keyur Seta

The 1990s saw plenty of formulaic films being made. One such formula was the love triangle. Generally, movies in this genre saw two men falling for the same woman, with the loverboys mostly being friends or brothers.

Lawrence D’Souza’s Saajan (1991) was one such film. Yet it stood out from other love triangles made in those days. Starring Sanjay Dutt, Salman Khan and Madhuri Dixit, the film had a rich storyline, mature handling and various layers that made it one of the best love triangles of that era and a major box-office success to boot.

That apart, Saajan worked wonders for Sanjay Dutt. Before this movie, Sunil Dutt's actor son had the image of a macho actor known for action roles, but his career seemed to have stalled with him featuring mostly in forgettable potboilers. In Saajan, the action hero was seen as a physically challenged poet who evokes sympathy. On top of that, the character was shy and introverted.

Madhuri Dixit, Sanjay Dutt and Salman Khan in Saajan

In his book Sanjay Dutt: The Crazy Untold Story, author Yasser Usman noted that the role was earlier offered to Aamir Khan. But the author was told by D’Souza that Aamir Khan turned it down, maybe because he was a relatively new director. 'Aamir’s refusal, Lawrence now believes, was a blessing in disguise,' Usman wrote.

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Explaining how Dutt gained from the film, Usman continued, 'Saajan was unlike any of Sanjay’s earlier films. A departure from his rugged action roles, he was now portraying a sensitive, lonely poet with soulful eyes. Sanjay was the best part of this surprise hit. "My role in Saajan was off my image. I took it as a challenge," he remembered. The role earned him his first Filmfare Best Actor nomination.'

Ram Kamal Mukherjee, in his book Sanjay Dutt: One Man, Many Lives, mentioned how the audience was surprised to see the actor excel in an emotional role as they were mostly accustomed to his ‘wooden’ expressions and muscle-flexing.

Sanjay Dutt in Saajan

'As the heartbroken poet, he managed to capture the isolation and quiet despair of a lonely figure,' Mukherjee wrote in his book. 'His character was vulnerable, fragile and almost apologetic — a far cry from his boisterous character in Thanedaar (1990) the previous year, in which he had played to the gallery. It also raised the question — was this the real Sanjay Dutt?'

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Mukherjee noted that Saajan ran in cinemas continuously for 75 weeks. Its diamond-jubilee run catapulted both Dutt and Salman Khan into the A-list category. 'Saajan became the highest grossing film of 1991, shattering all previous box-office records and establishing itself as the fifth highest grosser of the 1990s,' the author wrote. 'In 1991, Saajan’s gross box-office collection was Rs15 crore, which adjusted to today, stands at Rs181.70 crore. The net collection was Rs7.50 crore which, adjusted to today, stands at Rs90.85 crore.'

Dutt’s long hair in the film also became wildly popular, Usman recalled. 'The Sanjay Dutt hairdo became a rage in the early 1990s. "Jab maine apne baal badhane shuru kiye toh sab mujhe paagal kehte the. Aaj jis ladke ko dekho mera hairstyle apna raha hai. [When I started growing my hair out everyone called me crazy. Today all the guys are wearing their hair like me]," Dutt said after the success of Saajan,' Usman wrote.

Funnily, Saajan also had continuity issues because of the length of the hair of both its leading men. 'Interestingly, the length of Sanjay’s and Salman’s hair keeps changing from scene to scene because the film was shot over a long period of time,' Usman mentioned. 'Despite the glitches, Saajan was the superhit that Sanjay had been praying for.'