Sanju Review : Stellar Performances Elevate Light Biopic
My first reaction on learning of Sanju’s existence was “why?”. Sanjay Dutt is not your conventional celebrity and has a murky past. But is his story interesting enough to warrant a 2.5-hour film? And is it worth enlisting the talent of one of the country’s most successful directors? Rajkumar Hirani could have made his next film on an endless variety of more exciting topics.
My question was answered within the first five minutes itself. The film made it very clear that this is the story from Sanjay Dutt’s perspective. This is Rajkumar Hirani showing you what Dutt wants you to believe as opposed to what you’ve read or seen in the media over the years. Keeping that in mind, it was instantly evident that this will not be a seething and deep portrait on the aging star. This is an effort to fix a potentially damaged image. This is a gift of a PR exercise from a director to his actor friend. This tale inevitably paints Sanjay as a victim, with blame for the issues that have plagued his life being shifted in multiple directions. However, once I was able to get over the nature and reason for the existence of this film – I admittedly enjoyed myself.
Rajkumar Hirani is undoubtedly a gifted story teller. I was invested in the tale of Sanju. Regardless of how much of it was fact or fiction, the narrative had me hooked. Teaming up with his regular partner Abhijat Joshi, Hirani centers the film around the most controversial topics from Sanjay Dutt’s past. His drug addiction, arms possession, alleged terrorist involvement and jail time served form bulk of the narrative. All these events unfold against the constant anchor of his evolving relationships with his father and best friend. It would have been nice to get a more in depth look at his relationships with the women in his life too. Despite having talented actresses grace the screen in various roles, none of them gets much of an opportunity to shine, which is a real missed opportunity.
The screenplay is focused and fast paced. Despite being around the 2.5-hour mark, Sanju never feels like a drag. The usual Hirani staples of drama and humor in excess are present. While the writing is mostly solid, there are times when it isn’t as sharp or as witty as we’re used to seeing from this duo. Some dramatic moments seem to fall flat, and multiple attempts at humor feel juvenile. What makes these occasional hiccups easy to disregard is quality of the delivery from the top-notch principal cast. This brings me to the films greatest strength.
We’ve known for years that Ranbir Kapoor is an exceptional talent given the right script and he does not disappoint. The makeup and costume departments do a wonderful job of ensuring he looks the part at every phase. However, it’s him who makes sure he lives the character convincingly at every phase. Never for a second seeming awkward or out of place, he delivers a dynamite performance that digs more into the character than the script ever dares to. The pleasant surprises, however, are the wonderful supporting performances by Paresh Rawal (as Sanjay’s father) and Vicky Kaushal (as Sanjay’s best friend). As mentioned earlier, Sanjay’s relationship with these men is strong and consistent emotional anchors in the film. It is the quality of these 3 performances that helps overlook many of the film’s flaws and keeps you emotionally invested in the film’s proceedings.
Sanju is flawed and is Rajkumar Hirani’s weakest film yet. It fails to work as a biopic because this is not a balanced and neutral retelling of Sanjay Dutt’s life story. It is a clarification and justification of his past actions and the controversies that surrounded him. If you can overlook that, Hirani pulls together a well-made final product that’s an engaging and enjoyable watch. It has his staples of character drama and humor elevated by the magnetic presence and fantastic performances of the trio of actors leading it. Despite my skepticism and complaints, I was charmed and entertained throughout.