March 12, 1993. Black Friday. A day that changed the fabric of Bombay - as we knew it – and rewrote numerous lives. One among them was that of Bollywood star, Sanjay Dutt.
A series of 12 bomb explosions shook the city; coordinated attacks, that were purportedly carried out to avenge the deaths of the many who had been killed in earlier riots. Co-ordinated by underworld don, Dawood Ibrahim, and accomplished by his subordinates Tiger Memon and Yakub Memon, the attacks left 257 dead and more than 717 injured.
And in the midst of this shocking attack, the man whose name no one ever expected to be implicated… Sanju Baba.
A part of the consignment of weapons smuggled into India, to be trafficked to the terrorists for protection during the potential communal rioting after the bombings, was allegedly delivered and stored at Dutt’s house.
He was arrested under the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act in April 1993. Charges of terrorism were dropped but he was convicted of illegal possession of weapons, supplied by the D-Company gang.
Granted bail by the Supreme Court of India in October 1995, he was re-arrested in December 1995. He was again released on bail in April 1997. The case came to court in 2006 and during the period of 2006–2007, Dutt spent seven months in Arthur Road Jail and Pune prison on three occasions for the offenses.
Never before had a mainstream Hindi film hero, the son of a legendary actress mother and an upright honest politician father no less, been involved in such a heinous case ever. The actor claimed he feared for his life after the notorious bombings, and hence acquired arms but his defense was rejected and bail refused. With Dutt, it has apparently always been the sentiment that has ruled sensibility. And he has paid the price.
Paying the price
"I was hopeful there would be a happy ending but alas life is not a movie,” filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt commented when Dutt, who had served 18 months in jail, had to spend another three years and six months behind bars. “I expected mercy! Alas, it did not happen.”
Filmmaker Karan Johar shared, “I am truly shattered to hear of Sanju's sentence. The nicest guy I have known just doesn’t deserve this. My heart goes out to him.”
Actress-turned-politician Jaya Prada echoed: “This is very unfortunate, Sanjay Dutt is innocent.”
That was the common refrain – that the too emotional, too trusting, too impetuous Sanju Baba had made an error of judgment yet again.
“I have already suffered for 20 years and been in jail for 18 months. If they want me to suffer more I have to be strong. I am heart-broken because today along with me, my 3 children and my wife and my family will undergo the punishment,” Sanjay had said in a statement. “I have always respected the judicial system and will continue to do so, even with tears in my eyes,” he added.
He added, “I am going to complete all my films and won't let anyone down. I am overwhelmed by the support of my fans, the industry people, the media and all the well-wishers. They have always stood by me and supported me. I know in my heart that I have always been a good human being, respected the system and always been loyal to my country…God is great and he will guide me through this.”
From May 2013, the actor had been in jail – as prisoner number 16656 – to complete 42 months out of a total of five years of imprisonment that was awarded to him. He lived in an 8x10ft (2.4m x 3m) cell and wore the white uniform of prisoners. He could stroll in the garden in front of his cell, under the watchful eyes of four guards. He discovered the joys of reading and would borrow at least two books every week. He used to read extensively, mainly Hindi literature from Munshi Premchand, and newspapers. He had also developed a spiritual inclination during his time in prison.
He would spend his mornings making bags from newspapers, earning Rs.45 for every 100 bags. A little before noon, he would be taken to the radio studio where he would present a programme on 'Radio YCP' (Yerwada Central Prison), the jail's internal radio station. He would write his own scripts, and would usually speak about reforms during his radio sessions. He would also speak about rehabilitative processes of prisoners, peppered with dialogues from his popular Munnabhai films.
Prison changed him. He learned to consume even the dal infested with flies – he would remove them and joke that it was additional protein! He learned never to complain if and when his wife made black dal at home. He learned the value of the coupons he had collected in jail, which he gifted his sister Priya when she visited him on Rakhi.
While in jail, he never allowed wife Maanyata to bring the kids to meet him. “There were moments when I really wanted to see them… But I didn't want them to see me in torn clothes and the topi. I didn't want them to live with that image.” He would speak to them twice a month, while their mother told them that Papa was shooting in the mountains and didn't have a proper connection.
He emerged from prison, saying, “I learnt a lot. I was innocent then, I am still innocent, but there are some life lessons learnt.” An important one in his case would be: "Don't always think from your heart. Use your brains too at times."
“For me, life has not been beautiful,” he admitted. “It has been like going up to Mount Everest and then falling down. But every time I climbed the peak, I reached the top (again), beech mein nahin gira.”
Getting up every time he fell down…that has been the quintessential story of a man named Sanjay Dutt. The past 25 years are proof.