If you are a Hindi film enthusiast, you know how quick Bollywood is when it comes to ferreting out lives worthy of silver screen adaptation. While stories of late eminent personalities or forgotten heroes, who made some kind of difference with their deeds, have always been filmmakers’ favourite, a sharp increase in biopics revolving around people who are still alive and kicking has been witnessed of late. The upcoming Rajkumar Hirani directorial Sanju, which releases on 29th June, is the latest example of the trend. As the title suggests itself, the biopic is based on Bollywood’s controversial star, Sanjay Dutt. Actor Ranbir Kapoor plays Dutt in the movie and he asserts that it’s not a propaganda film trying to present Sanjay as God. In his recent interview with Eastern Eye correspondent, Mohnish Singh, Ranbir talks in detail about the role, how he transformed himself to play Dutt, and much more.
The release of Sanju is right around the corner. How are you feeling?
The feeling one has before a film is released has not yet hit me. When you work with good people, when you stand by something that you made and really enjoyed it, then it’s a very happy time. Sometimes you do a film but you are not a big fan of the film yourself, then you live on hope that maybe the audience would love it. Though, with this film, the fact that I got to work with Mr Rajkumar Hirani, the fact that it was a Sanjay Dutt biopic, I am really happy with this entire process and how it turned out.
How confident are you about the film’s success?
Confidence does not exist in the film industry because you don’t know the end result, and eventually your film releases on Friday and that’s when you really discover it. Sometimes the process of a film, the way you made it, is so enjoyable that you stay with that. I have my fingers crossed. There is still the feeling of hope that the audience would accept the film as they have accepted the trailer and all the contents of Sanju that have released. I am waiting with baited breath but I also have that hope that everything will work out.
Initially, you were a little hesitant about starring in the biopic. Weren’t you?
I guess when you guys also heard that I was doing Sanjay Dutt’s biopic, you must have also thought how could that happen? How will Ranbir play Sanjay Dutt? And also, it’s the first time in history of movies where you are making a biopic on an actor who is still acting in films, still so relevant, still so loved by so many people around the world. So, I always thought that these were big challenges. How will I be able to do it? But once Rajkumar Sir gave me the script, all my doubts and all my fears went away because there was so much of content in his life, and it’s very comfortable for an actor to do a Rajkumar Hirani film.
Your mannerism, gait and appearance look exactly like Sanjay Dutt in the movie. How was the whole transformation process like?
We had to do all these superficial things of trying to look like him, trying all the faces right, then actually feel like him, actually believing in that material because even when I used to read the scene, I used to think if this actually happened or not? I had to keep questioning Raju Sir. You can’t believe this much has happened in a person’s life, but it has really been a blessing in disguise for me in my career at this point.
What was Sanjay Dutt’s reaction when he saw your look?
The first time he saw my look was when Raju sir sent him a photograph and he replied by saying, “Why are you sending me my own picture?” So that was his first reaction, but I am looking forward to his reaction to the film because it’s a man who is going to see his own life and relive such emotional, controversial and conflicted moments of his life. I really want him to have a nice nostalgic feeling.
How were you able to capture the nuances of Sanjay Dutt’s experiences?
There was so much in his life that I had to represent in such an honest way. I remember I used to call him in the middle of the night before shooting and ask him what he was going through. What was in his head? Because what’s in the script, I’ll probably look at it as my interpretation, but to actually get it from the man himself is something else entirely. I remember we were doing the scene where the TADA verdict came out; I called him and asked him what was going through in his head then? He said that, “When I sat there and they announced my verdict, everything became slow motion, all I could think of was my father who died with a question if I was a terrorist or not?” He never was alive for this hearing and I think that in itself is so strong in emotion. So, as an actor when you have that you know now you have this emotion you have to play but now you play it with a different perspective.
How do you think you got this role? Good acting?
To be honest, in this industry just being a good actor is not enough, there are a lot of things that come into play; luck, being at the right place at the right time, opportunities you get. I mean Rajkumar Hirani offered me the film probably at the worst phase of my life, when my films were not doing well and that is such a confidence booster to you that, ok you are still getting these opportunities. I am very grateful for it but I don’t know what I am doing right or wrong. I guess my intentions towards my work could possibly be honest and right, maybe that’s what these filmmakers are seeing. But I am extremely grateful for this.
How did you get to study the body language of Sanjay Dutt?
I tried my hardest not to mimic him. I tried to actually be him because there is a fine line between mimicry and being someone because Sanjay Dutt is so relevant, people copy him; he is still working in films. So, it was a harder task for me to play this part because I didn’t want to look caricaturish, you actually had to see a vulnerable side to Sanjay Dutt.
Sanjay Dutt’s life has witnessed many highs and lows. How this film portrays him?
This is not Sanjay Dutt we all know that we have seen him on-screen. This is Sanjay Dutt off-screen, what he was going through? What was his dynamics with his family, his friends at every juncture of his life? I have tried my hardest to remind the audience that it’s me playing Sanjay Dutt and I could possibly become him but I tried to stay away from imitating.
When was the first time you met Sanjay Dutt?
I have known Sanjay Dutt since the time I was born. My grandfather and his mother had a lovely creative collaboration together on screen. Also, my father and he have been colleagues, so he has been very close to my family but I remember the first time I saw him. I was in Kashmir. My father was shooting for a film called Sahibaan (1993) with him and Madhuri Dixit. I was on set that day and I saw this tall man with long hair wearing an earring and Pathani, and I was really mesmerized by his personality. Anybody who sees Sanjay Dutt at different phases in life, they are attracted to what his energy is. Since that day onwards, I have been very fascinated by him. I had a poster of him in my cupboard.
How was it portraying the worst phase of Sanjay Dutt’s life on celluloid?
When you make a biopic, it always has to be an honest human portrayal of a person. So, we are not trying to portray Sanjay Dutt as a God, we are showing his mistakes. When you see me putting that commode on somebody’s neck you find that character to be wrong. You are seeing the bad side of him and it actually happened. That’s just one moment, there were probably 2000 moments in this film where it was firstly very hard for me to believe this actually happened and secondly thinking how will I perform it? So yeah, emotionally it disturbs you but it is also a lot of fun to play that because when you emotionally surrender to something there is a part of you which goes into your work and it’s always better than superficially working in a film.
What can you tell us about the portrayal of the father and son relationship in the film?
I think that this father-son dynamic in our country is very important because it is very complicated in somewhere. It’s not like the mother-son or father-daughter relationship. There is a certain complexity to it. With Sanju, I think the father-son dynamic between Paresh Rawal and myself, which is Sunil Dutt and Sanju, is the backbone of the film because it was a very complicated relationship. It was a relationship where Sanju sir used to fear him, he used to hide from him.
How was it working with Paresh Rawal?
Paresh sir is Sir Paresh Rawal. He’s been acting for so long and he has done such amazing work. He is a true actor because apart from the movies he still has so much of passion for theatre. He has done Gujarati plays, Hindi plays. He is culturally so evolved in entertainment and that’s a mark for a true actor and I am really happy that I got to work with him.
What was the most complex part for you to play and the most fun?
I had a lot of fun doing the Munna Bhai section, the making of that film. It was a lot of fun but I think the complicated part was the drug part, because he went really heavy into drugs. It was sad to see someone to go to that point.
What is your takeaway from the movie? Has the film changed you in any manner?
This thing that you say about film changing you, it subconsciously happens after some time. It’s not like I have completely finished the film right now and tomorrow I am a different person. But I think subconsciously this film will stay with me, and my respect and admiration for Sanjay sir has changed. Having said that, I don’t think that you will see a propaganda film; you will find a story of a faulty man. You might hate him also but you will see an honest portrayal of a person.