“Sanju” — An irredeemable mess.

There is something to be said about the frame story. When done right, it can be a magical, almost cathartic experience. Forrest Gump did that splendidly. It hinged mostly on an earnest performance by the master Tom Hanks, but the story itself, despite its various shortcomings, found its place in the hearts of thousands. Our ancient epics are all nested, frame stories, and it is no wonder that an artist reaches out to this device to tell a story. But, over-reliance on this trope can be tiring. Rajkumar Hirani clearly doesn’t get it. Or even if he does, he chooses not to act upon it.

“Sanju” is far from a biopic. We are now stuck in a vicious circle of calling almost every Bollywood biopic a hagiography because Indian filmmakers don’t know any better. With the exception of Paan Singh Tomar, we haven’t really seen a truly great biopic here, and Sanju doesn’t fill that vast, gaping crevice either. With a towering figure like Sanjay freakin’ Dutt as a subject, you have a treasure trove of information to handle, and yet you play it safe by making a needlessly romanticized, overwrought film, which is riddled with platitudes. Real characters are erased, facts are glossed over, and by the end, the film feels like it is trying to absolve Dutt of all the guilt, rather than tell an engaging story. In ‘Sanju’, everyone is blamed for Sanjay Dutt’s failings, except Sanjay Dutt himself.

Which brings me back to the point of the frame story. Hirani employed this device to some effect in ‘3 Idiots’ and it worked. Largely because that film was entirely fictional. In a fictional narrative, many misgivings of a story can easily be attributed to creative liberties and no one would bat an eye. It works in literature; books allow breathing space for both characters and story. In a movie, you only have so much time.

Sticking to the same, cozy schtick when you have a biography to tell is lazy writing. And when the subject of your own biopic is narrating the incidents to a fictional biographer, you can’t expect to have an honest account of everything. One might ask, “Goodfellas” was also a biopic, narrated by the person it was based on. I say, “Goodfellas,” told it as it is, leaving the audience to make judgments of their own. It laid bare the mob life, never glorifying it. “Sanju” does exactly the opposite. In the end, it becomes so busy in blaming others for the protagonist’s failings, that it forgets to tell a good story. Sanjay Dutt’s failings are brushed aside, and genuine facts sandwiched between two melodramatic story arcs — one, that of a father-son relationship, and the other of friendship. The film feels patched together from anecdotes, and the struggle to shoe-horn a theme, that of “kuchh to log kahenge”, is vulgarly evident.

Every frame of the film reeking of privilege and nepotism, “Sanju” is a story of a man patting his friend on his back for his wrongdoings and saying ‘there, there.’


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