Will Rajkumar Hirani’s Sanju break Bollywood free from its mediocre biopic-making?

Rajkumar Hirani films either make you laugh or cry. There's no compromise on entertainment

Rajkumar Hirani’s filmography doesn’t have many films he has made. He has made six films so far, out of which he directed five. His Sanju, starring Ranbir Kapoor, is the seventh. What is special about his resume, however, is that all the films he has directed have been blockbusters at the Box Office. They are not just considered path-breaking, but also stand tall in levelling all the elements of a quintessential commercial Bollywood movie. They have moved and challenged the collective consciousness of the nation.

Munna Bhai MBBS did it with ‘Jadu Ki Jhappi,’ Lage Raho Munna Bhai with ‘Gandhigiri,’ 3 Idiots with ‘Aal Is Well,’ and PK did it with ‘wrong number.’

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Hirani’s Sanju, which is set for release on June 29, is his first attempt to making a biopic. The movie is going to trail the life of actor Sanjay Dutt, arguably one of the most menacing Bollywood personalities.

There’s one linear fashion in which all Hirani’s films are made. The scenes of the films he has directed either tickle your funny bones or force you to think beyond the usual. In fact, that’s one thing Abhijat Joshi, the writer of his three successful films, swears by.

There’s one rule that Raju created while making Lage Raho Munna Bhai. Every scene that we wrote had to be either funny or deeply poignant. If any scene failed to do that, it had to go. No matter how important a thematic point it made, no matter how crucial it was to advance the plot, if it was lacking in either humour or emotion, it would not survive. We would set out to find new strategies to convey the same thematic point or plot point through laughter and tears, he mentioned in a book titled Lage Raho Munna Bhai, The Original Screenplay.

All Hirani’s films have been successful in doing just that. They made us laugh, cry and left us with provoking thoughts the first time we watched them. Would it be easy to do the same with Sanju?

The biopics are difficult to be made. First, a lot of research and rework go into the subject. In case of Sanju — marking the series of high and lows Dutt went through in his life. Then, a lot goes into arranging and reorganising the settings different situations have developed in. Here — recreating the entire 80s and 90s of Bollywood when Sanjay Dutt had stepped into the industry. Taking good care of how people in the protagonist’s life are being portrayed. Convincing the protagonist to be emotionally naked for a true story to be made, is another mammoth task. Though as Hirani mentioned, it wasn’t very difficult in case of Sanju since Dutt was happy narrating his story, which he thinks would inspire people and help them distinguish between good and bad.

Hindi filmmakers have been struggling to fulfill these honest demands of biopic-making. Nitesh Tiwari’s Dangal and Ram Madhvani’s Neerja have been a few exceptions in the recent past. And, so have been Ashim Ahluwalia’s Daddy. While the former two dug out great response at the Box Office, the latter succumbed to the makers’ idea of making it look like a gritty, dark entertaining fest. The rest, which deemed themselves as biopics — MS Dhoni: The Untold Story, Azhar, Sarbjit, and Haseena Parkar, could only focus on glorifying their main characters, polishing their heroic stances and leading the audience to believe in their unflawed ideologies.

Recommended Read: The nude shot, the overflowing toilet and five other scenes from the ‘Sanju’ trailer that made our hair stand

Sanju, with its trailer, and because of a sincere belief in Hirani’s style of filmmaking, looks promising. And yet one can sense scepticism around. Will Sanju talk about Dutt’s involvement in 1993 Mumbai serial Bomb Blasts as transparently as we expect it to? Will the audience be spared from believing that it’s casual and acceptable that Dutt had ‘slept with 350 women’ before finally finding love in his wife, Manyata Dutt? Will it reinstate our trust in Bollywood’s capability to make biopics in the most honest and believable fashion?

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