The first scene in Sanju is a suggestion by the director that this film is not going to be a self-commisioned propaganda film for Sanjay Dutt. This is suggested when Sanjay Dutt thrashes the writer of his biography, who compares Dutt to Mahatma Gandhi. Dutt reproaches the writer for doing so and burns down the book that was written in his reverence. Now, if it actually does tell an unbiased story of this man or succumbs to the need to present a slightly altered version, is a question each should answer for themselves but what is shocking is the conspicuous inability of the director in telling a compelling story. The director we are talking about is the man himself, Rajkumar Hirani.
Every time you walk into a cinema hall, you wish to be entertained with something new, to experience something unique. I went in, knowing that Rajkumar Hirani will not surprise me with his storytelling or story but can definitely entertain me. He did surprise me, by making a film that does not reflect any of the brilliance that we witnessed and admired over the last 14 years.
Sanjay Dutt’s story is a writer’s dream. You have a bad boy as your Central character, a spoilt child of a highly respected and successful couple, Sunil Dutt and Nargis. You have a life full of escapades that naturally surrender themselves to form a great story with several plot points and character arcs. It is frustrating that the writing in Sanju is its biggest issue. A disjointed screenplay, does not allow for an invisible thread to connect the audience to the story. As a Hirani admirer, as a filmgoer who wants to be entertained, you stretch your hand, helping the thread to connect you to the story but there is only that much emotional connection, a meandering script can make. The undercooked scenes do not envolope you like you want them to. The laughs, either don’t come or are forceful. The emotional scenes are teasingly close to hitting the mark. A mistimed background music, which is just one tune played multiple times that reduces it to being irritating over a point, it is often the untimed music or the tacky looking colours or the melodramatic acting that drains out a scene, off all its potential.
Rajkumar Hirani, aided by some terrific writing in his films earlier, is handed a mediocre script and the lack of conviction or commitment of his filmmaking side is exposed. How else do you explain the inconsistent accents of the actors which are more distracting that Anushka’s blue lenses and curly wig. You would expect a slight attempt to make his characters look and sound authentic and not change accents and body language in the same film, sometimes, in the same scene. Vicky Kaushal places a Gujarati friend in New York and his Gujarati accent mines many laughs in the first half but when we see him after several years, the body language and the accent have changed so drastically that you find no trace of the older Gujarati guy. But more than the inconsistent accent, the problem is with the convenient option the writer resorts to. The bigger problem lies in stereotyping a Gujarati guy’s character with a sole purpose of generating some comic relief. One expects smarter writing from the duo, Hirani and Abhijaat Joshi.
When the filmmaking fails, a riveting Ranbir Kapoor revs up the scenes with his supreme talent. The scenes between Ranbir and Vicky Kaushal, who plays his loyal friend, are the best in the film. Here are two fabulous actors playing off each other beautifully. Watch out for a scene where Vicky Kaushal reveals to a hospitalised Sanju, how his father is suffering by living a jail-like life. It is a shame that scenes like this are far and few between.
Sanju is a concoction of cliches, partly rescued by a terrific performance from Ranbir Kapoor.
Subtlety has never been Hirani’s forte and melodrama is something he thrives on and it is absolutely fine if it is aided with smart writing but Sanju borrows hugely from his previous films in terms of scene structures and yet does not manage to hit the right notes. Cliches are things that you don’t mind in his films as each scene is filled with conviction but Sanju retains the cliches and misses the conviction. The climax follows the same template as PK. PK was a film which had several problems in its final act and using a similar template for the next film is suicide. One of India’s finest filmmakers faultering is disappointing but none can getaway with a mediocre film.