For the first time in more than two decades, Sanjay Dutt is in a position to resume his acting career with a clear mind, untroubled by thoughts of court appearances. The Bollywood actor’s first brush with the law was in 1982, when he spent five months in jail for possession of drugs. Then in 1993 , he was arrested in connection with the deadly Mumbai bombings, and ever since, he has been in and out of jail, grappling with lawyers, courts hearings, bail applications and appeals.
On February 25, Dutt– who is affectionately known as Sanju Baba – completed his jail term for illegal possession of arms and is finally a free man. But questions have been buzzing about the 56- year-old: what kind of career will he have after a nearly four-year hiatus? What sort of persona will he project? At his age – pretty old by film industry standards – will he be able to command a lead role or will he be consigned to secondary characters?
Bollywood filmmaker Sudhir Mishra thinks he could easily pull it off. “Sanjay Dutt is a very attractive 56-year-old. Scripts will be written for him,” says Mishra. “Look at Amitabh Bachchan, who made the transition so well. Hollywood is full of older men and the Indian industry is changing, too – giving roles to older men so Sanjay will have plenty of starring roles.”
While Dutt’s legal hassles may be over, India remains polarised over his conduct. Many critics say he got off lightly for his foolhardy act – buying three AK-56 rifles and other weapons from the men linked to the Mumbai explosions that killed 257 people. Dutt has maintained that he needed the weapons to defend his family due to Muslim-Hindu tensions in the city (his mother Nargis was Muslim and his father Sunil a Hindu).
What is not in doubt is that Dutt is raring to get back into acting.
Dutt’s big-screen comeback is hugely anticipated, says Mishra, who points out that despite the actor’s run-ins with the law, he continues to be admired and loved by his fans. Mishra also believes that the actor’s first outing after his incarceration will be a mega hit, because he will be expected to channel his experience in prison into his work. And a slew of projects are already in the works.
Among them is an untitled action film directed by Siddharth Anand. Reports suggest the film will be shot in six countries beginning this summer.
Dutt is also the subject of a biographical film, which will be directed by close friend Rajkumar Hirani, who has been planning this drama with heartthrob Ranbir Kapoor portraying Dutt as an 18-year-old through to the present day. Dutt is expected to make a special appearance in the film.
Hirani has said the film will not be hagiographic, but will dwell on all the controversial aspects of the actor’s life, including his contacts with the underworld at the time of the bombings. The filmmaker has been quoted in the Indian press as saying: “I will make an honest film. I have made this film as it is – a great story. I am a brutal man when it comes to writing scripts. We are not glorifying him and are telling the story as it is.”
For Hirani, it will be his first time directing a film based on a real-life story. The idea came about when Hirani heard Dutt recount his life story over the span of 25 consecutive days. Hirani couldn’t believe how much drama and tumult the actor had been through and that had him hooked.
But perhaps Dutt's most-anticipated film is Munnabhai 3, the third in the highly successful Munnabhai comedy franchise, also directed by Hirani. Dutt won critical acclaim for playing the titular character, a petty criminal with a heart of gold. The role has been ranked among the top 20 Bollywood characters by Indian television channel NDTV. Trivia alert: production on the film began while the actor was still in jail.
Another big movie on the cards is Oh My God! by Umesh Shukla, who managed to have lengthy conversations with Dutt about the project, thanks to the fact that the actor was released on court-approved prison leave several times during his jail term – a total period of just over one year – triggering a controversy that he was receiving special treatment. These home visits gave him ample time to firm up plans for future projects with directors. Reports suggest Shukla's film will have a social message but with a big dose of entertainment.
Also in the pipeline is Total Dhamaal, a sequel to the 2007 comedy Dhamaal, directed by Indra Kumar, with no release date announced yet; and filmmaker Vidhu Vinod Chopra's Marco Bhau, with Chopra's sister Shelly on board as director.