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 these people, I have no special knowledge, this is just how it looks to me based on commonly available information.
Sanjay is one of those people who is his own worst enemy. He will make mistakes, he will get himself into trouble, he will be foolish (so very very foolish). But he will also punish himself more for those mistakes, for those foolish moments, than anyone else will. And he will never see the good things he does.
I’ve been talking all along about how Sanjay is an addict. And he is. Which means he has a lot of bad traits, a slow journey to maturity, a selfishness when in the throws of his addiction, an inability to see the big picture, an inability to make wise choices, and so on and so on. But he also has the good traits of an addict. Or rather, the good traits of an addict in recovery.
The 12 steps that Bill W., founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, designed for recovery are not merely a series of trials to go through before “winning” sobriety. They are a lifelong practice, a constant effort to improve, to be the best person you can be. A common saying in recovery circles is “it works if you work it”. It is work, and it is constant work, but it is the only way to get your life back, to get yourself back.
And like anything, the more you do it, the better you get at it. There are 12 steps, but they sift down to just 3 ideas. First, that you are powerless in the face of a higher power, God or the universe or humanity or love or whatever you want to call it, there is something out there greater than yourself and you can rely on it. Second, that you most constantly and obsessively search your behavior and find your own mistakes, your own issues. And third, that you must make amends for those issues.
(Sanjay at New Years this year, with all 3 of his children and his wife, a new family, a second chance to give Trishala her “Complete” family. Making amends.)
Addiction doesn’t happen because you are a bad person, it can happen to good and bad people alike, saints and sinners. But once you are an addict, you will do bad things. That’s how it works. The goal of recovery is to teach you how to face those bad things and move past them. And it doesn’t happen over night, it takes years and years to fully understand how to take responsibility for your actions and how to make amends for them. Sanjay understands that. It took him a long time, but he got there.
In the run up to the release of Sanju, and just generally whenever people want to criticize Sanjay, they will mention two things about his jail time. First, that he got off “easy”, with a lighter sentence than he deserved, with a lighter sentence than other equivalent people got for involvement in the bomb case. And second, that he received preferential treatment while in jail, too many furloughs.
For the first, Sanjay fought for 13 years, until his father died and beyond, to get his case removed from the TADA court and placed under a regular weapons charge. It wasn’t simply a matter of legalities for him, it was the family honor, his father’s name, his own name, and simple justice. When his case was finally settled, removed from the TADA category, he made a special request of the judge that it be formally stated, from the bench, that Sanjay Dutt is not a terrorist. And yes, the same thing should have happened for many many others. But their justice being denied to them doesn’t mean that Sanjay’s justice is false.
(Specifically, 71 year old Zaibunissa Kaida. The guns that were in Sanjay’s possession overnight, were eventually transported to her house, and then removed. She says she did not even know they were there, and no guns were found by the time the police searched. She was sentenced under TADA. Although, she was sentenced in the end to only 5 years, the same amount of time Sanjay was sentenced for his weapons charge. And she was in jail initially without bail for only half the time Sanjay served without bail back in the 90s. And Rakesh Maria, the cop who investigated, recently came out with a statement implying greater culpability in her case he had been unable to prove. So I’m not sure what to think about this comparison)
Not that it matters. You see it everywhere now, Sanjay is a terrorist, Sanjay is anti-national, Sanjay should be ashamed of himself and so should all those who follow him. Or, Sanjay is spoiled, Sanjay benefited from his privilege, other more deserving people did not. But Sanjay doesn’t say anything about it. He takes those comments and lets them be, part of his punishment, part of making amends.
For the second, yes, Sanjay did not serve his full term. Indian prisons have a policy of granting 28 day furloughs to prisoners once a year in order to visit family and take care of their business in the outside world. This is a wonderfully humane practice, enabling prisoners to better integrate back into the greater society at the end of their terms, and easing the burden of their imprisonment on their loved ones. In addition, prisoners are allowed to apply for special 30 day paroles because of illness, death, other family emergencies. Both furloughs and paroles can be extended if the prison authorities agree.
Sanjay did the paperwork and made his application for both furloughs and paroles, and then for extensions of them. The paroles were for medical leave. When his wife Maanyata was diagnosed with cancer and had to be hospitalized, when he himself had tests and treatment related a heart problems, and when his daughter Iqra had surgery for a deviated septum. And yes, I am sure there were other equally deserving prisoners who did not get leave for similar issues, and I am sure somewhere along the line someone processing the leave requests had a soft spot for Sanju.
But his children were 3 years old. And his wife was all alone trying to cope with her own illness, and a tiny little girl who needed surgery. If the rules were bent a little bit so this family could be together, then I am not sorry. I am only sorry that they can’t be bent as much for all families. I can’t find it in myself to be angry at a 3 year old boy and girl getting to spend a few extra weeks with their father before he was taken away from them again.
(Iqra crying when Sanjay returns to jail after a furlough cut short due to media outcries of special treatment)
It can be hard to understand why people would bend the rules for Sanjay. After all, he did consort with mobsters, he did take guns from them, he is absolutely guilty of possessing illegal weapons and should go to jail. And before that, he was a drug addict, an ungrateful son, a bad husband, an occasionally neglectful father, an unreliable actor, why should anyway go out of their way to help Sanjay?
If you said that to Sanjay, he would agree with you. He would accept that he was all of those things, and he would accept that no one should help him because he isn’t worth helping. And instead he would turn around and ask how he could help you.
In the film industry, it is just known that Sanjay is the most generous man alive. Known like that the sky is blue, grass is green, the ocean is wet. No one asks for or offers proof of this statement, because it’s so clear that proof isn’t even required. Sanjay will give you anything, any time, and ask if he can do even more.
This goes back to even his drug days. He was known as the actor’s kid who would always share his stash, buy you a hot meal, listen to you problems. Even when he was in the deepest pit of addiction, he would still reflexively reach out to help others.
It is an instinct that is invisible to the wider world. Because he doesn’t help the visible people. His own family never saw this side of him, because they were stable and solid and safe people, people that the world would acknowledge and respect. Those aren’t the ones Sanjay reaches out to.
On every film set, Sanjay will get to know the lighting crew, the cameraman, the spot boys. He will drink with them and play cards with them and laugh with them. And he will pay their hospital bills, their debts, their children’s school fees. He will bend down his big shoulders and pick up their burdens on top of his own.
(Sanjay’s car stopped by paparazzi on the way to a dinner party. He stopped, got out, talked to them, and asked Manyaata to take a group photo of them all on their cameras. And only then went on to the dinner party. Meanwhile Ranbir, the man playing Sanjay onscreen, when in a similar situation tricked a photographer into giving him his phone and then drove off with it, laughing, only returning it the next day under threat of a police case being filed)
Last Eid, he hosted a party for the cast and crew of his film. Inside the house were celebrities dressed in elegant clothes. Outside were desperate photographers looking for photographs. So Sanjay went outside to talk with them for a while, brought out food and drink and sat and drank and ate with them. And kept sending out food and drink, made sure that no one inside his house, or huddling on the pavement out front, went hungry on Eid.
When Sanjay’s verdict came down, when it was definite that he would be going to prison, there was a stream of visitors to his house. Surprising visitors. Shahrukh Khan, for instance, who had never co-starred with Sanjay, never even necessarily interacted with him in particular. At least, not that anyone knew. And then in a recent interview, Sanjay casually mentioned that Shahrukh is a wonderful human being, so respectful, so grateful, even though Sanjay didn’t ever do anything for him. Just that, years ago when Shahrukh was starting out and going through a “bad time”, Sanjay had promised to stand by him no matter what, and tried to give him a car because he needed one. But he didn’t really do anything, Shahrukh is such a nice guy for still remembering that.
Sanjay befriended Ajay Devgan back before he was a star, when he was still just lowly stunt director Veeru Devgan’s son. When Ajay launched his production house with Raju Chacha, Sanjay appeared in the film without question and without a fee. But if you ask him about the friendship, he will talk about how lucky he is to be friends with Ajay, to know this funny fun wonderful person that few people are close to, how Ajay was so good to be in his home production Rascals a few years back, how Ajay is the best actor in the industry.
And of course there is Salman, who openly talks about how Sanjay helped get him work when he was struggling. Rajkumar Hirani, who talks of how Sanjay took a chance on him and Munna Bhai when no one else wanted to touch it, didn’t even ask about money. Even Anupama Chopra, who doesn’t seem to like anyone, she loves Sanjay. Her husband, Vidhu, performed the rituals for his father’s death anniversary while he was in jail, that is how close the families are.
(Vidhu and Sanjay embracing after his release, with the portrait of Sunil in the background)
Sunil, Sanjay’s father, practiced wholesale good works. He tried to change laws and social practices to help people. He went out into the world too, delivered charity, gave food to the hungry, he was a good man. But Sanjay practices retail good works. He loves the person who is in front of him simply because this is the person in front of him. There is no one fallen so low that Sanjay will not try to lift him up again. No problem so large he won’t try to make it smaller.
By the time Sunil was in his 50s, those around him referred to him as “Dutt Sahib”. He was so large that he was out of their reach, removed from normal lessor humans. When he suffered, it was a public tragedy, an injustice that such a moral good man should be unhappy.
Sanjay is over 60 now, and he is still just “Sanju Baba”. He isn’t a respected elder, he isn’t someone you even necessarily look up to. But he is someone you love. When he went to jail, everyone mourned for him. More than he mourned for himself. Everyone from Anil Kapoor to Mahesh Bhatt gave sad messages on twitter, everyone from Shilpa Shetty to Juhi Chawla came to visit him in his house. They came not to comfort him, but to be comforted. Sanjay was the one they all leaned on, the strong one. While his friends expressed shock and outrage at the sentence, Sanjay said through his lawyer that:
“We accept the judgement as it is. Sanjay Dutt has said that he has accepted the judgement with humility. Another three and a half years are left, will see whatever happens as and when. Sanjay Dutt is strong enough.”
Later he issued his own statement. There are some unusual things for someone to be thinking of when facing 3 years in jail buried in this statement (highlights my own):
I have already suffered for 20 years and been in jail for 18 months. If they want me to suffer more I have to be strong.
I am heart-broken because today along with me, my three children and my wife and my family will undergo the punishment. I have always respected the judicial system and will continue to do so, even with tears in my eyes.
I am going to complete all my films and won’t let anyone down. I am overwhelmed by the support of my fans the industry people, the media and all the well-wishers. They have always stood by me and supported me.
I know in my heart that I have always been a good human being, respected the system and always been loyal to my country.
My family is very emotional right now and I have to be strong for them. I am shattered and in emotional distress. I am sorry I can’t come down and meet you all.
God is great and he will guide me through this.”
Sanjay was facing 3 years in jail and, along with worry over his family, he was concerned about fulfilling his film commitments, not “letting anyone down”. And while he had to be there for his family, he was sorry not to be a good host to the media gathered out front, “sorry I can’t come down and meet you all”.
He did manage to fulfill his film commitments too. He asked the court for 4 weeks, and worked around the clock and got it all done. During his furloughs, along with tending to his sick wife and daughter, he turned one of the rooms of their apartment into a sound booth so he could record dialogue on any free moment. And he did it, he cleared all 3 films he was working on. They released on time.
Sanjay was released 3 years later, finally. His wife was waiting for him alone. When he had gone in, Mahesh Bhatt had been standing by her side. This time Mahesh didn’t come. He explained to the press when they asked that it wasn’t because he wasn’t still there for Sanjay, it was because this time was between the two of them, Manyaata had earned it, a private moment. Sanjay walked out of jail, saluted the Indian flag atop the walls, kissed the ground, and then kissed his wife. They took a private jet (supposedly provided by Salman Khan) back to Bombay where they were met at the airport by Iqra and Shahaan. Trishala was waiting back at the house with the rest of the family. Sanjay went straight to his mother’s grave to pray, then home. He saluted his father’s portrait in the lobby of the building, smiled at the homemade banner his sisters had made, and then went out to talk to the press, his two youngest children leaning against his chest. The world was right again. Sanju Baba had come home.
A few days ago, Sanjay in his car noticed Akshay Kumar in his. So he sped up and turned and blocked him in. Akshay got out of his car, Sanjay got out of his, and Sanjay went over and gave him a big hug. Then they talked for a few minutes, before both getting into their cars and driving away. Sanjay is the kind of guy that will get into a mini-high speed chase just because he really wants to give you a hug. How can you not love a guy like that?