Sanjay Dutt is Sick, And I Have a Question About the Response to That

Isn’t it nice of Sanju to give me a topic I can use for this little discussion post? We can even talk about him and other similar stories as examples because they are minimally political. And then we can think good things and be wiser better people, which is what we were put here on earth to do.

Sanjay Dutt is sick. He has not confirmed what he is sick with, he has not confirmed what his treatment will be, all he has said is that he is taking a break for his health. And he asks that you please do not speculate.

If you see something that says he has cancer, or a particular kind of cancer, that is speculation, not fact. It may or may not be true, but you certainly cannot use it to move a step further into an opinion.

If you see something about what kind of medical treatment he is getting, about how his family feels about it, about anything like that, it is also speculation. You can take it in and consider it, but you cannot use it to make a judgement.

The first item of news here is completely neutral. A famous person announces he is sick in order to explain why he will not be making public appearances for a while. There is no spin he is putting on it, or (I think) anyone else is putting on it for him.

The second layer of rumors starts to be a bit dangerous He said “sick” and “treatment”, people immediately want more details. And so media sources and The Internet start inventing answers. He smokes, so maybe it is lung cancer. Lots of people go to America for cancer treatment, so maybe he is taking a break to go to America. This speculation is a minor problem.

Why is this a minor problem? Well, first, cancer awareness. “Lung cancer” is where people tend to go with men, and “breast cancer” with women. That’s the first idea that comes to your head, that’s the name you repeat and repeat, and the end result is that the money, resources, and patient awareness all go to those cancers. There are loads of cancers! Rishi Kapoor had leukemia, Nargis Dutt had pancreatic cancer, Irrfan Khan had a neuroendocrin tumor. Research money should go to those, treatment money, and patient awareness (just because you don’t smoke doesn’t mean you won’t get cancer). Misinformation builds on what we have already heard, it does not break new ground the way truth does.

Nargis Dutt: Lesser known facts
More truth, Nargis Dutt died of a UTI. The cancer and the treatment had weakened her immune system, and it was a common bacterial infection that killed her. UTIs are super common for women, this is a good lesson that they can be killers if not treated seriously, and a good lesson in general that cancer “cure” doesn’t return you to where you were before, it is something that is a constant risk. Oh, and Irrfan Khan, same thing, he died of an intestinal infection probably related to his tumor treatment in that his body was already weakened.

And then there is the treatment hyper-awareness. I’ve known a lot of people in America who got cancer, and eventually most of them died of it. But I don’t know anyone who left the country to get treatment. A few people traveled some hours to the nearest major city, but no one had to leave the state for treatment. I don’t know if this assumption a celebrity will leave for treatment is a sign of lack of faith in the Indian medical system, or a sign of over belief in the magical western medical system, but either way I don’t like it. Again, misinformation is building on prejudices and assumptions, instead of on fact and reality.

Why is this so hard for people? What is it that makes it impossible for us to take a breath and say “Here is the statement provided by the person involved, and that is the end of data for now”? Is it because we don’t like not knowing how to feel? I think it might be because we have a need to judge. That’s the Major Problem, not the made up details, but the way we use them to make judgements.

Let’s look at Sanjay’s statement again. If he has lung cancer, he smokes and therefore he brought it on himself. If he has a lingering organ failure related to alcoholism, same thing, he did this himself. Drug use related damage, now it is beginning to feel tragic, he hasn’t touched drugs for so many years, that’s a bit unfair perhaps. Or of course random illness that can strike anyone, that’s just a shame and a tragedy. But you need to know what it is or else you don’t know how you feel about this!

If he is traveling for The Best treatment, then you can relax, keep him in your thoughts but trust in the magic of western medicine. If he is not aggressively pursuing treatment, that’s a bit scary, you don’t have any greater power to trust, you need to worry about him. If his family is by his side, that’s sweet and nice. If they are not, you have to choose a side between him and his family, blame them for not being there or blame him for driving them away. If his jobs are left half done, you need to decide if you feel for his producers for being left behind, or feel for him for being blamed for his own illness. I could go on and on, every permutation of judgement has played out in the past around these really fairly neutral illness stories. And divorce stories. And any other personal story where we didn’t get details but felt we should, remember when Taimur’s name was something the whole world felt like we deserved to know about and be consulted on?

Pics: Saif Ali Khan visits Kareena, newborn Taimur in hospital ...
How did we feel the need to have an opinion on this baby beyond “babies are miracles”?

The best healthiest response, I think, is to see the one small confirmed statement, and stop, and live with that. It is the truth and if there are more mysteries to unfold, they will come in time, from similar confirmed sources. For myself personally, this is mostly an easy response for me. Very rarely will a news story trigger a need to track down more information, true or false.

So I guess here is my question. Is it that people who can just accept a statement and resist the urge to speculate and extrapolate and judge are rare?

Or is it that those people are rarely online?


16 thoughts on “Sanjay Dutt is Sick, And I Have a Question About the Response to That

  1. Get well soon, Sanjay.

    I have to admit a vague illness like this kind of makes me itch to speculate. Because you see, if it was something like a heart condition (yes, that is my favorite comparison), he could just say so. So I’m then set on the path of asking, “what kind of sickness carries a social stigma?” And then I’m sad that people can’t just openly talk about their mental health issues, or anything that people could link to their past behavior, or so many other things. And I’d wish for people to just not care and be totally straightforward about all those things, for the sake of awareness. And then I catch myself: I’m kind of judging the person with the anonymous sickness anyways.


    • See, that’s the problem! You say you will just wonder but not judge, but it is such an easy step from one to the other. On anything, even “I wonder why their wedding date was changed?” and then you find yourself a few minutes later thinking “well of course they were pressured into marriage, it’s terrible that this young couple who really shouldn’t be together are forced into marriage”.

      With illnesses in Indian film celebrities, it seems like the standard is to keep details quiet no matter what the illness is. I don’t know if any illness is seen as shameful, or at least a weakness, or if there is a fear that any details will help people to speculate and rip this difficult time out for public view, or what. Like, I don’t think we knew Rishi had leukemia until after he died, and that’s not shameful, they family just preferred to leave it as some vague “sick and being treated” thing. And I have heard from a couple of personal contacts (not online, actual human word of mouth by way of friends of friends) of some other minor celebrities who had life threatening illnesses and it never made the news at all in any way. Again, not shameful illnesses, just things that I guess they didn’t want to share to the point of keeping a stone wall around it so that I only know thanks to personal friends.

      And now I am speculating too! I am just itching to make a sweeping statement about illness in Indian society being shameful and how Sanjay has a duty to fight against that and provide details of the no doubt not shameful thing that is making him sick. But no, we don’t know anything.

      On Tue, Aug 11, 2020 at 1:58 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:



  2. On the point of Indian vs Western medical industries, a celebrity may decide to leave India for treatment for privacy reasons. As a former Indian citizen and a current American citizen I can assure you that the entertainment journalists/reporters in India can best be described as hounds.


    • Thank you so much for the information! If you are willing, I would love the answer to a follow up question.

      What sort of privacy do you prefer around medical issues? Would you feel more comfortable saying “I’m sick” instead of “I have leukemia”? It feels slightly odd to me to be willing to say you are seriously ill but not what you are ill with, but I’m thinking that might be a Western thing that I am putting on Indian culture.

      On Tue, Aug 11, 2020 at 2:07 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:



      • I would say that I have leukemia. The only reason I could think of why someone would say “i’m sick” vs “I have leukemia is that they might not want people to worry. I, on the other hand, would want people to worry about me.


        • Going off of that, I have the advantage of not being a public figure. I don’t have to face of guilt of causing possibly millions of fans to worry about me.


  3. In case of Sanjay Dutt, he isn’t so popular that everyone would be following him. I actually heard first from the media that he had been diagnosed with cancer. It was after that that I checked to see if it was true and found his twitter account and saw the note he had written a few hours earlier. It had been reported 2 days ago that he had breathlessness and had been admitted to the hospital but tested negative for COVID. It would be very hard to hide an illness in Mumbai because leaks would come from the hospital itself. In Rishi Kapoor’s death, videos had surfaced even of his last few minutes because someone working in the hospital must have taken them.

    I believe that privacy is the main reason that Indian celebs go to the US or UK, not for any miracle cure. Dealing with the media will make the illness 10 times more difficult so they opt to get out of there. One of my relatives was being treated in Sloane Kettering when Rishi Kapoor was there. Neetu would sit in the waiting room all day and there would be some desis who would recognize her. She would sit and talk to everyone and encourage them and talk honestly about Rishi too. They were not hiding things from people they met because there was freedom in knowing that these people weren’t going to leak anything. It’s not like they had any access to the Indian media and since they were cancer patients or relatives of patients themselves, they really had no interest in doing that. When they left again for India, Rishi was not in remission. I think he was just tired of being in the US and wanted to go back home.

    Things online are actually sensationalized less than they are on TV or on Whatsapp. At least online, there are some people who will question things. It’s TV and Whatsapp that spreads the worst rumors. That audience believes anything! My grandma is definitely not on twitter or instagram looking at celebs but she will come across brain-dead TV channels and be sent gossip-filled Whatsapp forwards. That audience isn’t even equipped to question anything. They believe everything they see.


    • Thank you for the insight, especially into the medical treatment side of things. It has always bothered me a little to see these stories of going overseas for treatment, because I live “overseas” (as do you), and our treatment isn’t exactly a guarantee, you know? I wasn’t sure if the American treatment centers were conning them or if the Indian treatment centers were much worse than I thought or what.

      Let me suggest something and you see if it feels true. Is it possible that the audience thinks they are questioning things because they are defending an opinion on them? That is, they will be given made-up information like “Sanjay Dutt has liver disease which can be caused by alcoholism”, and then on their own will take the next step and say “Sanjay Dutt drank himself to death”. So they are lead right up to the water, and then drink it themselves. But think they got their on their own.


      • Healthcare in the US and India is ironically very similar in the sense that if you are rich, you will get state of the art, world class care and if you’re poor, not so much. Government hospitals are totally free so care is available for the poor but they suffer from lack of funding and lots of beds will be shoved into one room and expensive treatments most likely won’t be available. But considering the lack of resources, they actually do a good job. My uncle is an orthopedic surgeon and he was saying American doctors don’t use or aren’t taught basic medicine and rely way too much on unnecessary scans and testing even when it is not really necessary. This makes the treatments way more expensive than they need to be and in most cases won’t improve efficacy by a large percent. I’m sure this has something to do with the insurance industry and what is more profitable for them.
        India is actually really famous for medical tourism because lots of people from Western countries go there to get treated for a fraction of the cost and very good care. Fraction of the cost because of currency conversion, not because the treatment is cheap by Indian standards. My mom ended up having to have eye surgery when she was in India for a long-ish vacation and her doctor in the US was stunned when he saw how well the surgery was done when she came back. Most Americans tend to have a myopic view of the world.
        When it comes to celebrities, my guess is that since fans have this heroic view of them, they don’t want to break that myth and be in the news on a daily basis for a disease or illness. It’s one thing to announce that you are unwell once and another for news to leak out everyday of what procedures you are going through and which treatments are being given. For them, it’s easier to just fly out and end the gossip. Imagine the paparazzi being outside the hospital each time you walk in and out and judging by your appearance how well or how poorly you are doing.
        As for the audience, they don’t need to be lead to anything because if you watch Indian TV channels, they come up with the most absurd things. Not only will they outright announce that Sanjay Dutt drank himself to death, they will add in even more juicy and most likely fake stuff related to his personal life like how his wife was not there for him, maybe they are going through marital problems, see he deserves it after what he did to his first wife, etc. They aren’t refraining from saying anything and letting the audience judge. They plant the full idea, not just the seed.


        • I suspect that in America it is more liability concerns than anything else. Anything that might be something should be followed up, even if it almost certainly is not something. Which ends up shooting the cost of care up and up and up. It’s good in that they do find and diagnose things sooner I suppose, nothing gets missed, but it’s also expensive and time consuming. Oh, and the likelihood that any doctor will only see you once for 5 minutes, so they have no sense of what is unusual or usual for you and have to lean on tests. That would be insurance, all those managed plans that limit doctors. I’m not speaking as an expert of course, this is just what I have experienced myself as a patient and what I’ve been told by friends in med school.

          Blech, TV channels! Of course that’s why the pppparazi feel so confident taking hospital photos, they know they can do whatever they want to these people and no one cares.


  4. I feel like your posts on social media and the nature of online discourse is always so on point, especially with regards to celebrity culture in India.

    I think part of it is also how community-based India is. Sometimes out of care, sometimes out of competition, sometimes of self-preservation. If we DON’T comment or ask personal questions, other people might think that we don’t care and also, we can’t protect ourselves if the same thing should happen to us.

    Sanjay’s “brand” is also one that lets this speculation run rife. He’s Sanju baba, a child, a brother, who grew up amongst everyone.

    A lot of things are thrown around these days, with few them being true or right. The simultaneous anonymity and presence of social media brings out not great aspects of people, but I also like to think it enables you to become a better version of yourself (create art, learn new skills, read this great blog etc etc.)


    • This is something we’ve mentioned briefly here before, and which I have experienced myself. It seems like there is a general continuum of how personal a question is allowed, is considered acceptable. I am on the farthest private edge of that, not just as an American but as a member of my particular family which takes privacy to a high art. So I am trained to not expect a follow up question, to think that I should say the most I am comfortable revealing in my initial statement since that is all that will ever be said. Does that make sense? Like, if I were talking to a friend about my foot surgery, I would say “I am having foot surgery, my big toe has a weird bone thing, it is out patient, I will have to be off the foot at my parents for 3 weeks at least”. All the details in one go, because if I just said “I am having foot surgery”, I know they won’t even ask “how long is the recovery”, because that wouldn’t be polite, so if I want them to know something I need to volunteer it up front.

      My instinct is to say that this is “normal”, but it really isn’t, because maybe this kind of questions-privacy scale has no normal, it just has what people do in the place they are in. So I am reading Sanjay’s message as a little odd since there are no more details, but it’s just odd to me in the world I live in, in Sanjay’s world it is normal. Just as the few times I’ve had someone actually ask me a follow up question about a personal matter, any personal matter, it has felt odd to me. But that’s just odd TO ME, in other places it would be a normal conversation to say something like “did you have to go into the hospital overnight for surgery”.

      On Tue, Aug 11, 2020 at 2:54 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:



      • That’s really interesting. I’ve lived in the US forever and never really thought people don’t expect follow up questions. My experience is colored by being around desi culture though. In fact, if someone didn’t ask follow-up questions, it would be considered uncaring as if you are not interested in what that person is going through. I mean there are times I’m actually not interested in details but still end up thinking of something to ask just for the heck of it in order to look engaged.
        For instance, if you gave out all that toe surgery info at one go, the other person would most likely to have to find something to ask so it most likely will get personal – like Are you going to have someone with you at the hospital? Or Will you be on your own after the surgery or will someone be taking care of you? And if it turns out the person is alone, you’d have to offer to take them to the hospital and spend the day with them. These kind of things are almost obligatory even if that person is not thaaaat close to you. There are times you end up extending yourself more than you might want to just out of politeness. I think Indian culture also has a very “it takes a village” approach to things. If you know someone and realize they don’t have as much support as they need, you just kind of have to step in. It’s the expected thing even if that person is not your bestie.
        A while back, a distant aunt I hardly ever see, ended up driving me to the airport because she heard in a party I was going to take an Uber the next day. You’re not supposed to take Ubers if there are relatives around even if you see them like once a year. lol.
        That makes me think that’s another reason why celebs leave the country when they get sick. Every coworker, everyone they’ve ever come into contact with, would now have to visit them in the hospital, send them food, offer to do errands, etc. It actually ends up becoming a burden on the ill person to deal with them all.


        • I’ve totally asked a follow up just too look engaged in the conversation! But not about medical stuff, more like “oh yes? and what wedding dress did you end up buying?”

          I hadn’t thought about the questions as a bit of a trap. Of course, in my version of normal, it would also be strange to accept or expect help from someone. If someone offered me help, I would feel very uncomfortable accepting it, and I would never offer myself unless explicitly asked. Which leads back to why this announcement read as strange to me, in my version of the world announcing “I’m sick” means “stay away”. Whereas in Sanjay’s world, from what you are saying, “I’m sick” means “come closer”.


          • Yeah, exactly. The minute he put up that post about his illness, he would have received 500 calls from the industry. At these times of illness, even people you haven’t spoken to in 5 years will call because it’s the “right” thing to do. It’s not even about them being nosy. It’s about them doing what they think is the appropriate thing to show concern. People with connections would have offered to help him get a visa or a private plane. Others would have offered doctor recommendations. Others would have extended help for his wife and children. And trust me, if he didn’t pick up calls, at least a few would have arrived right at his door so that he can’t ignore them.
            I think that’s why the news leaked within hours of his post. Once one person finds out, everyone does. The media’s appetite is also whetted with the kind of post he made. They would definitely start hunting to find out what’s wrong with him.
            I’m pretty sure the news is true because if it was false, his spokesperson would have put out a denial. Nobody lets fake news like this one stand. The Sadak 2 trailer was also supposed to release today and they suddenly put it on hold. It had already been previously announced for today and a pirated copy has even leaked out. I think everyone must have been frantically trying to figure out what is going on so they paused the trailer release.


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