The film may not have come out yet but the teaser for Rajkumar Hirani's Sanju makes it amply clear that it does not intend to show Sanjay Dutt's life through a critical lens. The fact that it is being directed by a friend and frequent collaborator of Dutt may have already hinted at this, but the teaser removed all doubts.
Doctors told young "Sanju" that his lungs were shot, but he came back with a physique supposedly comparable to Muhammad Ali's. Sanju the "player" had 308 girlfriends. Sanju the "cool guy" has had a rollercoaster, adventure-filled life in which he stayed at luxury hotels with a view of Manhattan's skyline as well as a prison cell with no windows.
But above all, when one of the many Sanjus says that he had one AK-56 rifle (a crime Dutt was convicted for), the oldest Sanju tells him to not skip to this part without context. If this is not a blatant attempt to be sympathetic to Dutt, nothing is.
This is simply a new wave of Bollywood propaganda. Around the world, actors are artists who do what they do because of a love for the craft. They want to play complex, grey characters in nuanced narratives because that is what challenges and excites them.
Bollywood stars, who are mostly star kids, on the other hand, are in it only for the fame and money and the key to this is to play monolithic supermen who only do good. To the average Indian, who does not understand cinema, the good guys on-screen are the good guys in real life. And voila, fanatic cults around stars are formed.
It is only natural that this has evolved to hagiographies of these stars being made by their friends, portraying misogynistic criminals as sympathetic and lovable boys.
However, in the reactions to Sanju's teaser, heaps of praise were showered on Ranbir Kapoor. Laypersons and entertainment journalists alike went so far as to compliment Kapoor for looking exactly like Dutt without realising that it is the film's make-up artists, hair stylists, and costume designers who are responsible for creating the look, not the actor.
Over the last decade or so, the production quality of Bollywood films has improved to the point where make-up and prosthetics can make actors look almost exactly like the characters they play. But India's cinema literacy remains low and this is regularly attributed to the actors, who are applauded for it.
Ranbir Kapoor has been a huge beneficiary of this, among other things. In the decade in which he's been active, no opportunity has been spared to talk up his "talent". It has effectively been propaganda, as even his biggest fans and backers cannot seem to articulate what exactly makes him a good actor. Buzzwords like charisma, charm, panache, elan, that have absolutely nothing to do with acting and everything to do with personal appeal of the star are used.
Interesting. pic.twitter.com/xbLytQqPxc— Rishi Kapoor (@chintskap) April 24, 2018
When his lack of expressions is spoken about, he's attributed unquantifiable abilities to convey emotions through his eyes. When it's pointed out that his complete inability to modulate his voice would make him unfit even for college-level drama societies, his backers throw in arbitrary terms like "screen presence". When it's argued that the man's mannerisms and poor diction seep into every character he plays, one is called a "hater". When he gets box-office success, it bolsters his stardom. When he has four flops in as many years, it is the fault of the audience for not appreciating "good cinema".
And now, Hirani is using his directorial skill to glorify two star kids with one film. Given his penchant of making films that are seen widely and remain in public consciousness, it can be safely assumed that Sanju will become the definitive biography of Sanjay Dutt, washing over his crimes and misdemeanours.
But that's not all. To the Indian audience, mimicking the extremely exaggerated and borderline cartoonish mannerisms of a very popular actor combined with truly commendable make-up and hair styling qualifies as terrific acting. Ranbir Kapoor's star will rise higher, not that it had ever fallen.
His fans and backers will watch a 90-second teaser and sing praises of his talent, already declaring that this will be a fantastic performance. When others tell them to pipe down, they'll say "at least wait for the film to come out", unaware of the irony. They'll never articulate where exactly his talent lies but his critics will be silenced with the "hater" tag and blamed for not understanding cinema. The myth of Ranbir Kapoor's acting ability will endure.