Why Ranbir Kapoor may never be the real hero of Sanju

By Kapil Talwar

The intense buzz around Sanju begs a fascinating question: Is the film riding on Sanjay Dutt’s cult reputation or on Ranbir Kapoor’s acting prowess? Dutt’s colourful life guarantees that the battle is already half-won, but will it be Kapoor’s physical acting that takes the biopic toward the finish line?

If there is one thing that Bollywood loves as much as Karan Johar loves pouting and dancing at starry weddings, it’s back-patting its own. Rajkumar Hirani’s upcoming Sanju touted as the movie event of the year, is a prime example.

The Sanjay Dutt biopic is directed and produced by the same people who resuscitated the actor’s failing career with Munnabhai MBBS. The actor essaying Dutt is none other than Ranbir Kapoor, a third-generation star from Bollywood’s first family (whose career is going through a rough patch of its own). The fact that the casting coup also translates to Raj Kapoor’s grandson essaying the role of Nargis’ son makes matters all the more poetic. Plus, its supporting cast boasts of every actor you can think of – Paresh Rawal, Manisha Koirala, Anushka Sharma, Sonam Kapoor, Dia Mirza, Vicky Kaushal, Jim Sarbh, Boman Irani, and even Alia Bhatt. At this point, it’s less movie and more, Bollywood party. Even Sonam Kapoor’s star-studded wedding failed to get so many talented actors under one roof.

Naturally, with a bevy of known faces playing a host of known faces and a starry poster releasing every day, the excitement is understandable. The film’s popularity is evident from how swiftly its teaser became the trending topic the moment it released last month. Today, social media is abuzz with talks of the trailer.

From social media influencers to Rishi Kapoor, everyone’s reaction can be summed up in one line: “Exact Sanjay Dutt lag raha hai woh!” Which is a bit like saying you were excited about Koi… Mil Gaya because of Jadoo’s striking resemblance to a gareebon kaa alien: It’s completely irrelevant. (That’s not to take away from the fact that Ranbir Kapoor’s mastery over Dutt’s body language is astounding.)

But this intense interest around Sanju also begs a fascinating question: Is the film going to ride on Dutt’s cult reputation or Kapoor’s acting prowess?

Sanju benefits abundantly from the fact that its protagonist has led an enthralling life. In a world full of Alan Harpers, Sanjay Dutt is a Charlie Harper. No, Charlie Sheen actually. If drug abuse, ill-fated love affairs, multiple marriages, conviction, imprisonment, paroles, and family feuds don’t make a pot boil, nothing does. It’s the same reason why a biopic on Akshay Kumar, may never evoke such widespread engrossment, despite his outsider-to-Khiladi No 1 story and status as Bollywood’s Patriot-in-Chief.

Sanju benefits abundantly from the fact that its protagonist has led an enthralling life. Image credit: Vidhu Vinod Chopra Films

For Ranbir Kapoor, Dutt’s colorful life has guaranteed that the battle is already half-won. Even though Dutt’s Second Coming in Bollywood (Agneepath, Zanjeer, Bhoomi) has failed to create a splash for his film career, by no means is he a bygone celebrity. The new Dutt is more sober, more reclusive, but yet Bollywood’s first bad boy has a fan following to match the superstars of today.

For Ranbir Kapoor, Dutt’s colourful life has guaranteed that the battle is already half-won.

Does that guarantee Sanju will be an entertaining movie? Perhaps not. People who admire Dutt’s rough edges and extra Y chromosome might find Ranbir Kapoor to be a mild mojito in comparison. Dutt might be the inferior actor, but his personality and devil-may-care attitude have rendered him unforgettable. Which makes Kapoor’s gamble an even bigger risk. His last couple of outings – Bombay Velvet, Tamasha, Jagga Jasoos – have failed to become commercial successes despite his assured versatility.

Kapoor could, at best, emerge as an actor who finally delivers – at worst, he’ll be dull. But he won’t be the hero.

The real hero will be its director Rajkumar Hirani. His past 100-crore records aside, Hirani has, by now, perfected mainstream masala filmmaking and does not undermine his audience. Personally, I didn’t like Sanju’s teaser as much: It defied a biopic’s expectations of being “serious” and instead went the animated route. (The trailer sort of rectifies that, if you can ignore the romanticisation of drug addiction and the glorification of Dutt’s past tainted by womanizing.)

But then again, that might just be its calling card. The Hiranification of biopics is a fascinating premise and with a subject as contentious as Sanjay Dutt, Sanju could be the Bollywood experiment that actually pays off.

The article was originally published on Arre.

Kapil Talwar is an author at Arre.