When it comes to reading biographies of public figures who have led a chequered life, the reader is expected to possess a degree of suspension of disbelief, but such things don’t mean anything when it comes to reading an account of Sanjay Dutt’s life. Barring a handful of news-based reportage, nearly all material harps about the film star being a misunderstood entity whose phoenix-like ability to rise from the ashes is worth celebrating. A new biography by Ram Kamal Mukherjee is the latest to join the club of expounding the oft-repeated argument that the eternal man-child is just a messed up star-kid who, over time, eventually managed to set things right.
Mukherjee’s is not the first biography of Dutt and certainly not the last, if reports of the star penning his version later this year are to be believed. A few weeks before Dutt’s ‘official’ biopic Sanju was to hit the screens in 2018, Yasser Usman’s Sanjay Dutt: The Crazy Untold Story of Bollywood’s Bad Boy ended up narrating the troubled star’s life. Much to Dutt’s chagrin, Usman’s book caught the fancy of the millennials as many of them were not born when the colourful incidents connected with Dutt’s life were a regular feature in film magazines and newspapers.
In a bid to make the book ‘authentic’ and ‘factually correct’, Mukherjee writes in his note to the readers that One Man, Many Lives refrains from hearsay anecdotes and the many stories on Dutt that keep ‘floating’. For those who might have read Usman’s book or can recall incidents from the 1980s and 1990s, Mukherjee’s book might not offer anything new or substantial.
As a film journalist with over two decades of experience, Mukherjee might have enjoyed a ringside view of Dutt’s life and as the former editor-in-chief of Stardust, one of the most famous film glossies in India, his comprehension of the events ought to be slightly deeper. Instead of offering any insight, Mukherjee gives the reader a straight account of the events that shaped the persona known as Sanjay Dutt, which seems to be more like a series of long articles than an in-depth biography. There is significant space given to the major incidents, but nearly all of it is a precise delineation of events.
Reading the book leaves you unmoved. Dutt has witnessed much tragedy but appears to be unaffected by the magnanimity of his actions. The book, too, seems unruffled by cataclysmic events. Most of what you read about Sanjay Dutt today barely mentions the chilling details of his alleged role in the 1993 Bombay Serial blasts that claimed 257 lives. It’s intriguing to see how stories about Dutt that theorise him being the enfant terrible tug at the reader’s cognitive estrangement or a person’s ignorance to promote suspension of disbelief, to tell the tale. The next time someone wants to write on Sanjay Dutt, s/he should paste a quote of John Locke: “I have always thought the actions of men the best interpreters of their thoughts.”