In honor of the release of Sanju today, I am reposting my entire series on Sanjay Dutt. If you can’t wait for the reposts, you can find the original posts in the index here.
Usual Disclaimer: I don’t know this people and have no special knowledge, this is just how it looks to me based on common knowledge.
If you try to explain why Sanjay is so beloved, what he is really like, you can’t look to foundations and awards and speeches the way you could for his father. It’s in the invisible parts of his life, the willingness to take a body blow over and over again and get back up again, and never ever hit back. And it shows most in how he treated the women in his life.
Sanjay talked in interviews about how he could always get women by pretending that he needed them, playing the sad little boy. But there is a strange sort of humility to that admission, he sees himself as always “playing” someone who needed love, not someone who deserves it.
That’s the key to Sanjay’s behavior with women. He never feels like they owe him anything. He feels like he owes them. In his own strange way. He can’t always give them what they want from him, but he will try to give them everything he can.
The woman Sanjay failed the most was his first wife, Richa. He just couldn’t be there and watch her die in the same place his mother had died. He ran away from her and by the time he was strong enough to come back, he had grown away from her. He was in a different place now, he could never be the husband she wanted, couldn’t go back to what they had been. But he gave her everything that was in him to give.
Sanjay did what he could for Richa. In the end. She always loved him, always dreamed of being back with him, and Sanjay knew he couldn’t give her that. He started divorce proceedings, to free them both from this dead marriage. And then Richa got sick again. Sanjay was in the middle of the fight for his life with the TADA court, but he begged their permission to leave the country, stopped the divorce proceedings, and was by her side at the end. He couldn’t give her a life with him, but he could give her a good death, letting her die as “Mrs. Sanjay Dutt” the way she wanted to be.
Sanjay wasn’t able to grow fast enough to be there for his wife, but he somehow pulled himself together and found it in himself to be there for his daughter, always. She lived in New York with her mother and aunt and grandparents, but Sanjay called her and visited her whenever he could. He failed his wife, but he never failed his daughter. Even Sunil was overwhelmed by the situation, he started waiting on a street corner outside the house because he was not brave enough to enter it and ask to see Trishala. But Sanjay would do it, he would go in and face their anger and accept it and humbly insist on his right to see his daughter, and bring her to the window to wave to her grandfather.
When Sanjay went to jail, he was dating Madhuri Dixit according to most reports. And she abandoned him, wouldn’t even take his calls, or accept his messages. And then gave an interview declaring that he was nothing more than a co-worker to her. Even Sunil Dutt blamed her for that, in a later interview with Mohammed Khalid he mentioned that Sanjay was really struggling, even the woman he loved had left him (clearly referring to Madhuri, in a moment of ungentlemanly and un-Sunil like bitterness, so unworthy of him that Khalid generously chose not to report the comment until years later). But Sanjay, he has never said a bad word about her. The most was a wistful comment in a recent interview that if he could marry any actress, he would marry Madhuri.
There was a year gap between Sanjay’s first month in jail and his second excruciatingly long jail term. And during that time he started dating model Rhea Pillai. Sanjay has been with a lot of women, that’s part of his addictive personality. But he has only been in love a few times. Rhea was someone he loved. And she loved him back.
When Sanjay falls in love, he doesn’t have a “type”. If you look at his serious relationships, Tina, Richa, Madhuri (rumored), Rhea, Nadia Durrani (rumored), and finally Manyaata, each woman is completely different from the others. Tina was a few years older than he, Richa a few years younger. Madhuri was a top actress, Manyaata a struggling item dancer. Richa was an American, Manyaata from Dubai, and Nadia was Pakistani.
Rhea was unlike any of his previous romances. Already 30 years old, from a background even more mixed than his (Muslim, Hindu, and Christian, and descended from the Hyderabad royal family), and training as a yoga teacher and volunteering with Ravi Shankar’s Art of Living foundation. And already divorced once. Rhea wasn’t the young dreamy middle-class good girl that Richa was, or the film set romance like he had with Tina and Madhuri. She was something different, cosmopolitan and sophisticated and open minded. And mature, Sanjay was growing up and he wanted a woman who was as grown as he was, no more affairs with starry eyed little girls like Richa, or with Madhuri who wasn’t willing to ignore her reputation for love.
Rhea proved her love for him, proved her strength. Through out that torturous 14 months in jail, Rhea visited him, brought him food, gave him strength, was there at every court appearance. Once he was out, Sanjay and Rhea moved in together, waiting for his divorce to come through and then, later, for Richa to die. And only then, when his life was clean and clear, did Sanjay and Rhea marry, in a romantic elopement on Valentine’s Day.
The marriage only lasted a few years in happiness. By 2001, it was rumored that Sanjay was in love again, with someone besides his wife. Nadia Durrani, a Pakistani belly dancer with a 9 year old son. Very different from Rhea’s sophisticated Bombay socialite style. Sanjay did something wrong, he broke the covenant of marriage and betrayed her. But he didn’t run from what he did, he tried to make amends.
In 2003, Rhea started seeing Leeander Paees, tennis star. By 2005, she was pregnant with his child. And Sanjay was still supporting her. She went shopping for her new baby nursery with his credit card, set up a household for herself and Leander with his money. And Sanjay never said a word. He asked for a divorce, she said no, so he let it go. It was his responsibility and he accepted it. And he didn’t talk about it, let the media paint him as the one at fault in the separation and never said a word.
(Rhea and Leander with their daughter, while Sanjay was still supporting them. Not saying she didn’t deserve it, she stood by him through thick and thin and was rewarded with a broken heart, a little money was a small price to pay. But the point is, Sanjay agreed with that. He knew he did wrong and he was willing to atone)
I don’t want to excuse Sanjay’s behavior in his relationships. He was unfaithful, he hurt people, that isn’t right. But he knew it wasn’t right. And he tried to do better. His relationships weren’t about repeating patterns, they were about trying and failing and learning from it. After Tina, he didn’t look for another long term dating relationship, he wanted to get married. After Richa, he never gave up on a woman again, never walked away. The next time he got married after Rhea, he made sure it wasn’t a marriage that would end in them drifting away from each other. And finally, with Manyaata, he got it right.
Manyaata is, seemingly, a terrible choice for Sanjay. A struggling item girl, 20 years younger, moved in with him before his divorce from Rhea was even final. Rumors of other men in her past, perhaps a previous marriage, scandalous videos of her floating around on the internet, obviously she wasn’t good enough for him. That’s what Sanjay’s sisters thought, and most of his friends. But Sanjay stood by her. He stared down his family and the whole world and married her, no matter what anyone said.
Their marriage seemed like yet another terrible impulsive Sanjay idea. It had a questionable legality, considering his divorce was just barely final. It happened so fast that hardly anyone was invited, and his own family refused to come. No one thought it would last.
But then, against all odds, it did. Sanjay’s sweet romance with his first costar couldn’t last more than 2 years. His perfect marriage to the perfect girl turned into tragedy. His slow careful romance with an equally experienced and mature woman, including years of living together and confronting tragedy together, lasted in happiness for only 3 years and ended with mutual infidelity. But this, the marriage to the woman who wasn’t “good enough”, the one with nothing in common with him, the one that everyone was so sure would fail, has lasted ten years. Ten years of difficulty as great as anything else Sanjay’s relationships went through. The only thing that changed, was Sanjay. Finally, he was able to give everything that was needed in the relationship, he was able to find the inner strength to stick it out and never give up.
Sanjay, the same Sanjay who ran away when he couldn’t face what was happening to Richa, who silently endured while Rhea kept him from a divorce, who didn’t say a word as Madhuri walked away from him, he stood up to his whole family for Manyaata. He starred down his sisters and declared he was marrying her no matter what they said. And he had faith that they would come around, that it would all work out, that love would be enough. And, shockingly, it was.
Sanjay was sent to jail when their twins were 2 and a half years old. Sanjay went to jail, and Manyaata stood by him. She attended his premiers, became the formal head of his production company, and she traveled to Pune once a week to see him, to bring him messages from his friends in the industry, and bring back his own messages. And she kept his children away, following his wishes to protect them from the shock his nieces had when visiting him in jail years earlier.
3 years later, Sanjay finally came out, and Manyaata was waiting for him. His family was waiting at his home in Bombay, but the only person who was there for him at the prison gates, braving the media to be there, was Manyaata. Despite the family disapproval, the legal troubles, and the medical issues (yes, Manyaata got cancer as well, while Sanjay was in prison), they had made it through, the two of them, like a real marriage. Sanjay finally got it right.