We live in an age where we no longer seek news from the papers that arrive early in the morning. News and commentary are well served on platters known as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. One word on the search bar and there is a whole canvas painted in anecdotes from around the globe. We form opinions based on popular culture and what we see on screen. In an arena like this, when a movie like Sanju comes up, and the audience laughs over scenes like the one when Sanjay Dutt says that he has slept with over three hundred women and shows pride in the same, we undo all the agitation for women empowerment and equality.
When I went in to watch Sanju last weekend, I was anticipating Rajkumar Hirani to put on display, in all its reality, Sanjay Dutt’s life from scratch. What I did not know, was the fact that in the name of reality, I will be served with some of the most misogynist and distressing dialogues I have ever come across.
“Gheechay To Ghapa Ghap Chay… Translate Kar… Ghee Matlab Paisa… Or Ghapa Ghap… Sex.” (If you have money, you have sex)
This one dialogue, basically sums up the belief that a woman will sleep with any person, given that he is a man of appropriate status and has money to buy her expensive items. Not only is this mentality derogatory and insulting, it also disallows women to have a stance of their own, and the audience, while watching the movie, probably did not think, that a woman may still not want to have sex with a person, despite of a certain social standing he enjoys.
Sanju has normalized notions that activists around the globe have tried to dismantle since decades, from a woman being an object that a man can enjoy to his content to the fact that he is allowed to misbehave with her, as long as he is ‘in love’ with her. In one such instance, Sonam Kapoor Ahuja’s character, Ruby is humiliated by Sanjay Dutt who was in an inebriated state. Ruby, on the next morning, says that Dutt must not come to know about the incident, because ‘he will be hurt’. The film, claiming to be a panorama of real peek into Sanjay Dutt’s life, fails to condemn a privileged manchild’s actions, which, ironically, affects the ones he ‘loves’.
A woman, shown to be madly in love with the lead character reduces her own worth to pieces, when she justifies her lover’s actions by not confronting him for them. Sanjay Dutt has had a difficult life, according to Hirani, but he fails to hold Dutt accountable for the problems he has faced. In a dialogue, Ranbir Kapoor, playing Sanjay Dutt, says, “Har Drug Addict Koi Na Koi Bahana Khojta Hai Drug Wapis Shuru Karne Ke Liye… Mera Bahana Ruby Thi” (Every drug addict looks for an excuse for taking drugs again, and my excuse was Ruby). This statement justifies Sanjay Dutt having used all the drugs that one possibly can, as he himself stated in an interview. The justification used here points to a woman whose worth was smothered to rags.
Sanju, in its two hour and forty minute long run, rationalizes every situation that Sanjay Dutt has faced in his life, in the process justifying also, his misjudgments in life. The wrath of Sanjay Dutt’s actions, faced mostly by the people closest to him, has been pushed to the fringes, and the lead character has been glorified to no extent.
The problem with films like Sanju is the fact that the audience will laugh over the scenes mentioned, but hardly anyone will question the glorification of toxic masculinity shown in the movie. The female characters of the film have not been given their due credit; Sanjay Dutt’s wife, in one scene, asks her husband to “fight” all the drama surrounding his life and the allegations made against him, but hardly ever has she been shown to question Dutt for his actions. Moreover, she smiles and looks on indulgently at Sanju while he boasts about having slept with 308 women (350, for safety).
I accept consensual and protected sex, regardless of the number of times a person has it, but these concepts have been berated as well. “Hamare Family Mein CONDOM Istemal Nahi Kartay Is Liyai Bahot Bada Family Hai… Hahaha” (We don’t use condoms in our family, so we have a huge family) is a dialogue at which the audience roars with laughter. “Hum Actoro Ka Kaam Hai Imagine Karna, Samne Koi Bhi Ho Tujhe Uske Andar Ek Khoobsurat Heroine Dikhne Chahiye” (The job of us actors is to imagine; whoever is in front of you, you should imagine her to be a beautiful woman) just adds to the toxicity of the film. The various memes that are doing the rounds on social media these days reflects how the common Indian population perceives these patriarchal insults, as jokes.
This is not the first time though, that Rajkumar Hirani has come up with a movie which derogates its female characters. In 2009, 3 Idiots was released and the whole nation laughed over a scene where ‘Chamatkaar’ became ‘Balaatkaar’. When people laugh over scenes like this, where a crime as grave as rape is trivialized to a laughing stock, it shows how sick the mentality still is. Humor at the expense of women and their dignity is not, and cannot be justified. So when someone tells me they loved Sanju, I ask them why they do not ponder over the misogyny and relentless glorification of toxic masculinity.
When the whole life of a person is condensed to a one hundred and fifty minute long film, it takes certain departures from reality. It then rests on the shoulders of the director and script writer, which details to delve to the public. In Sanju, the stories of his two previous wives and his sisters are missing. Hirani comfortably chooses what to show to the audience, and what to ignore completely. The audience, with equal comfort, embrace the portrayal of toxic masculinity, who ‘roars’ in the film; while also forgetting the crimes that Sanjay Dutt is not only accused of, but convicted as well. Sanju basically has ‘men will be men’ written all over its indulgent depiction of a felon who has been glorified and cited as a ‘victim of situations’. I question the very making of a movie like Sanju, a biopic of a drug addict who has been known to be in possession of arms without proper licence.
Bollywood is a male dominated industry, and the question here arises, why is not such a movie is made on the lives of female artists, who have been accused of crimes, even remotely as grave as those in the case of Sanjay Dutt. The answer probably lies in the notion that a woman who bends the rules does not deserve space in the mainstream media, while a man who was charged with crimes like possession of illegal arms and secretly filming then union minister H.R. Bhardwaj in 2009, does. Moreover, the film suggests that Sanjay Dutt would have been a different person had circumstances been in his favor. I do not attempt to dig to the man’s past and slaughter his character by pointing towards the crimes he has already served time for, but the fact that these crimes he committed did not garner the due space in the movie only adds leverage to the fact that the industry is male dominated and the crimes of a star like Sanjay Dutt will be rationalized given his status and political connections.
The audience left the theaters with the take away that Sanjay Dutt is a victim of circumstances. My point here is, we cannot justify a man’s stance towards the women around him, and all the charges made against him only to ‘circumstances’.
Also read: Bollywood’s Tryst With Toxic Masculinity