Sunil Dutt, the Father, Never Stopped Fighting for Sanjay Dutt

An unauthorised biography - Sanjay Dutt: The Crazy Untold Story of Bollywood’s Bad Boy (Juggernaut Books) by Yasser Usman - and an authorised biopic - Sanju, starring Ranbir Kapoor and directed by Rajkumar Hirani. One wonders why there’s suddenly so much interest around the troubled actor’s life, ut there’s no denying the sheer drama that is Sanjay Dutt’s life story. While it remains to be seen how authentically Sanju tackles Dutt’s life, Yasser Usman’s book has thrown much light on it, including his relationship with his parents.

Welcoming “Presley Junior”

Sunil and Nargis Dutt were superstars in their own right. And both were renowned for being solid, dependable, “good” people. What does Sanjay Dutt: The Crazy Untold Story of Bollywood’s Bad Boy have to say about Sunil Dutt and his influence on the young Sanjay?

Sunil Dutt (born on 6 June 1929) grappled with misfortune early on - fighting against everything from his father’s death to Partition to struggling to build a life in what was then Bombay.

"While Sanjay was born with a silver spoon in his mouth, as a little princeling in Bollywood, his father’s childhood couldn’t have been more different. Perhaps it was Sunil Dutt’s turbulent early life that made him the solid, dependable man he was, always there for his family, friends and community. " - An excerpt from ‘Sanjay Dutt: The Crazy Untold Story of Bollywood’s Bad Boy’

Sunil struggled a lot before he got his first break in the Hindi film industry, while his future wife Nargis shot to stardom early on. The two met on the sets of Mother India in 1957, where Sunil saved her life from a fire. The rest, as they say, is history.

But how did the Dutt couple fare as parents to their firstborn, Sanjay Dutt? There’s an interesting story on how they named their beloved “Presley Junior” (when they were courting, Nargis used to lovingly call Sunil Dutt Elvis Presley).

"Interestingly, the baby’s name was chosen by ‘crowdsourcing’ via the then immensely popular film and culture Urdu magazine ‘Shama’. In the November 1959 issue of ‘Shama’, readers were asked for suggestions for Nargis and Sunil’s son’s name. One of the names suggested was Sunjay Kumar." - An excerpt from ‘Sanjay Dutt: The Crazy Untold Story of Bollywood’s Bad Boy’

Sunil plays with a baby Sanjay Dutt.

Sunil, the Family Man

Nargis put her career on the back-burner as she concentrated on the roles of mother and wife. She also immersed herself in social work. Sunil Dutt took on the mantle of the traditional breadwinner for the family.

" In 1966, Sunil Dutt was shooting near Hyderabad when he received a telegram from Nargis congratulating him for winning the Filmfare Award Enter Presley Junior 17 for best actor for Khandan, in which he played the role of a disabled person. An emotional Sunil replied: ‘I love you – I love my family – I love my children . . . They should grow up sweet, intelligent and not like the teenagers of today, it all depends on you, and how much time you spend for them. Their lovely growth will be your great contribution to society than any of your social work.’" - An excerpt from ‘Sanjay Dutt: The Crazy Untold Story of Bollywood’s Bad Boy’Playing the Bad Cop

Sanjay Dutt got unmitigated love from his mother, nani and so on. Sunil was the formidable figure in his life trying to rein in an evidently spoilt brat, and tried both the good and bad cop routine.

Sanjay demanded his first cigarette as a child of six when the family was visiting Kashmir for a shoot. When refused, he threw a brattish fit.

" In the end, Sunil intervened and came up with an unorthodox suggestion: a six-year-old boy could not possibly smoke a cigarette, he reasoned. Dutt Senior felt it would be better to let Sanjay try to smoke and burn his fingers doing so than to resist his demands and risk stoking his fascination for smoking. Sanjay could surely find another way to lay his hands on a cigarette, he argued. And so Sunil bet on Sanjay coughing hard and developing a fear of smoking. Sunil took his son aside and gave him a cigarette. He showed Sanjay how to put it to his lips, how to take a drag and let out the smoke from his nose. An alert Sanjay studiously followed his father’s instructions. Sunil had underestimated his son. Sanjay later recalled, laughing, ‘I did as was shown by Dad and finished the entire cigarette. Dutt Sahab got very worried and angry. He started beating me up and made me stand in the sun.’" - An excerpt from ‘Sanjay Dutt: The Crazy Untold Story of Bollywood’s Bad Boy’

The Dutt family.

No matter how much he tried, Sunil Dutt couldn’t control Sanjay.

"Sunil Dutt was worried that Sanjay, coddled and spoilt rotten, would grow into an uncontrollable monster. He had to be made accountable for his actions and that seemed impossible as long as Sanjay’s mother, sisters, Nani and uncles let him get away with murder. " - An excerpt from ‘Sanjay Dutt: The Crazy Untold Story of Bollywood’s Bad Boy’

Sunil decided to send Sanjay to a boarding school in Sanawar in a bid to discipline him. Sanjay was traumatised for the first few years there till he turned the tables by becoming a bully himself. But it strained his relationship with his father - perhaps forever.

"But after a while, Sanjay started to resent his father for sending him to Sanawar. He later said, ‘I hated him for it. I began to feel so sorry for myself that I seriously suspected that I was not the biological child of my parents.’ "

A happy moment.

Enter Drugs

When Sanjay returned home in Mumbai to join college, he promptly fell under the spell of drugs. And despite mounting evidence of his addiction, a naive and uncomprehending Nargis not only denied its existence, sometimes she even lied to Sunil to cover for her son.

"Sunil didn’t put two and two together either. Once a drowsy Sanjay was eating dinner with his father after taking a hit of heroin. Sanjay recalled many years later, ‘I went to sleep in my daal, yaar. My dad said, “Isko kya ho gaya, yaar? [What’s happened to him?]” He couldn’t understand what was happening.’ " - An excerpt from ‘Sanjay Dutt: The Crazy Untold Story of Bollywood’s Bad Boy’

Sanjay with Sunil Dutt at an event.

Fight for Nargis

Sanjay soon dropped out of college and wanted to pursue acting as a profession. Dutt Sahab was initially upset but then planned a meticulous training programme for his son. Sanjay Dutt signed his first film, Rocky. And then, Nargis was diagnosed with cancer. Sunil flew her to the US for treatment and stayed with her every step of the way.

"In the months that Nargis was in coma, Sunil had missed her spirited voice. It was her voice that gave him courage, the strength to fight. Sunil shuddered at the thought that a day might come when he may not be able to hear that voice again. And so once Nargis regained consciousness, he decided to record some of his conversations with her. They spoke every day, sometimes sharing old memories, sometimes about the future of their children. " - An excerpt from ‘Sanjay Dutt: The Crazy Untold Story of Bollywood’s Bad Boy’

Sunil, Nargis and Sanjay at an event. 

Nargis lost the battle, leaving the family devastated and Sanjay spiralling down the drug hole. But it was these recorded conversations which would later save his life. Sunil Dutt finally caught up with Sanjay’s addiction and enrolled him into a rehab in the US. But even there, Sanjay was never too far from caving in to temptation. Sunil then sent him the tapes of his last conversations with Nargis.

"Sanjay had not cried when his mother died. It had been three long years since Nargis had passed away but Sanjay’s wounds were still festering. When Sanjay got the tapes from Sunil he had no idea what was on them. He pressed play and suddenly the room was filled with Nargis’s voice. He remembered his childhood, when his mother’s voice would reverberate through the Dutt mansion. Th e voice he was hearing now was different – it was weak, broken and in immense pain. But his mother still spoke of her dreams for her beloved Sanju, and gave him some gentle advice. More than anything, Sanju . . . Keep your humility. Keep your character. Never show off. Always be humble and always respect the elders. That is the thing that is going to take you far. And that is going to give you strength in your work . . . Sanjay sat, statue-like, and listened. It was just him and his mother in that room. ‘I heard my mother’s voice . . . advising me and telling me things and how much she loved me and how much she cared about me . . . and how much she expected from me,’ recalled Sanjay. ‘. . . I burst out crying and I cried and cried . . .’" - An excerpt from ‘Sanjay Dutt: The Crazy Untold Story of Bollywood’s Bad Boy’

Sunil with Kumar Gaurav, Sanjay Dutt and the Naam team.

The Biggest Blow

Sanjay pulled back and concentrated on his career, though he was never too far from trouble. But Sunil Dutt got his biggest blow when Sanjay was arrested under the TADA act in 1992.

"Sunil was still not ready to believe that his son could have been involved in the blasts conspiracy. He wanted to hear from Sanjay that the media had got it wrong. His son could not be a terrorist. Rakesh Maria told Sanjay to tell his father the truth. Th at’s when Sanjay admitted to him that he had been in possession of an assault rifle and some ammunition that he had got from Anis Ibrahim. An appalled Sunil Dutt wanted to know why. As mentioned earlier, that’s when Sanjay said, ‘Because I have Muslim blood in my veins. I could not bear what was happening in the city.’ Nothing had prepared Sunil Dutt for this answer. Crestfallen, he left the police headquarters. Everything he stood for was at stake. Tears began to well up in his tired eyes. " - An excerpt from ‘Sanjay Dutt: The Crazy Untold Story of Bollywood’s Bad Boy’

One can only imagine Sunil Dutt’s pain in the nightmarish days that followed.

"Sunil would reach Crawford Market headquarters at 7 a.m. every morning, hoping to catch a glimpse of Sanjay when he was being taken from his cell to the interrogation room. Sunil would try to go near him and hug him or just pat his shoulder. His eyes would promise his son that he would be out soon. " - An excerpt from ‘Sanjay Dutt: The Crazy Untold Story of Bollywood’s Bad Boy’

Sunil and Sanjay became close in later years. 

Politics and Prison

But Dutt Sahab fought for his son and finally managed to secure interim bail for him in May 1993. But his changing political relations finally turned the tables against Sanjay.

"In an interview published in ‘Saamana’ in June 2005 – by that time Pawar had left the Congress over Sonia Gandhi’s ‘foreign origins’ – Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray said, ‘[Sunil] Dutt told me that NCP chief Sharad Pawar had ruined Sanjay’s life.’ He added, ‘Dutt trusted Pawar’s words and sent Sanjay, who was Bal Thackeray to the Rescue 145 then abroad, to police . . . He was arrested . . . kept rotting.’ " - An excerpt from ‘Sanjay Dutt: The Crazy Untold Story of Bollywood’s Bad Boy’

Sunil Dutt acknowledged defeat after giving it his all trying to get Sanjay out of prison.

"Sanjay recalled, ‘Every day he used to come and meet me in jail and he used to tell me, “Kal ho jayega . . . kal ho jayega. [You’ll be released tomorrow.]” It’s not that he didn’t try. It went on for three to four months.’ Sanjay says that during one of these meetings, ‘I just broke down and said “Dad, kab ho jayega . . . when? [When will I be released?]” . . . He [Sunil] held me by the collar and he had tears in his eyes and he told me, “Sanju I can’t do anything for you any more. I am sorry, son . . . I can’t.”’ " - An excerpt from ‘Sanjay Dutt: The Crazy Untold Story of Bollywood’s Bad Boy’

It was finally Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray who managed to pull Sanjay out on 18 October, after 15 months behind bars.

Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray played a huge role in securing Sanjay’s release from prison.

He married Rhea Pillai shortly after.

"Sunil came to know about the Sanjay–Rhea wedding not through his son but through a journalist. He was calm and told him that ‘as father it is his duty to protect Sanjay. Beyond that whatever Sanju is doing in his life is his choice. His personal life and career is none of my business.’ Sunil’s tone was matter-of-fact but there was apparently a hint of hurt in his voice too. When the officer was about to leave, Sunil asked after his daughters, whom he was fond of, and then said, ‘Sahab, you know what . . . daughters are the best.’ " - An excerpt from ‘Sanjay Dutt: The Crazy Untold Story of Bollywood’s Bad Boy’

Father and son at an event.

The Last Days

Sunil Dutt faced the camera for the last time with his son for Munna Bhai, where he played an upright father on screen as well. Things were a little relaxed and happy at last between father and son.

"Remembering his equation with his father, Sanjay said, ‘Our relationship was now really relaxed and we talked a lot. He wanted to move into the apartment next to me, and we were busy preparing everything for him.’ Sanjay gave Sunil seven expensive bottles of wine for his new home, and Sunil hugged him and said, ‘My son, you spoil me.’ " - An excerpt from ‘Sanjay Dutt: The Crazy Untold Story of Bollywood’s Bad Boy’

On 25 May 2005, Sunil Dutt passed away from a cardiac arrest in his sleep.

"Bhatt, who was in the vehicle with Sanjay, Kumar Gaurav and a few other close family friends, recalled, ‘All we could see was an expanse of people gathered there. Till the eye could see, there were only people, people, people.’ According to the Hindu, 30,000 people lined the road to the crematorium. They had gathered to pay their last respects to a man they loved. ‘Sanjay was blankly looking at the sea of humanity gathered to mourn Sunil Dutt . . . people of all kinds, all classes, assembled there to bid Dutt Sahab farewell. Sanju and I exchanged a look and I saw something I had never seen in his face before. It took the death of Sunil Dutt for Sanju to realize the kind of contribution his father had made to the lives of people. I could see he was humbled,’ said Mahesh. ‘Sanjay turned to look at me . . . he said: “I did not know my father was such a great man.”’" - An excerpt from ‘Sanjay Dutt: The Crazy Untold Story of Bollywood’s Bad Boy’

Dutt Sahab with his family. 

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