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GUNS AND STARS
- The Bombay experience is a unique mishmash of film and reality
THE THIN EDGE

The Sanjay Dutt verdict scattered like a shrapnel bomb among the people of India. Or, at least, that’s what it felt like when I came down to breakfast one morning at a house where I was recently a guest. A fellow guest, a Delhi lady, was lacing her toast with bitter tears of rage as she read the details of Justice Kode’s judgment. “How,” she asked, “can they do this to that poor chap'”

The lady, a distraught fan and a lover of fair play, constructed her argument through her toast, her papaya and her coffee: Sanju had committed his little foolishness many, many years ago. “Justice delayed is justice denied!” she cried (I think she meant: “the delay in administering justice should surely preclude any justice from being administered”). All he had done was get some guns to pretend-play with, he hadn’t killed anyone nor had he intended to. If he was being given six years, then why weren’t Manu Sharma (Jessica Lal’s killer) and the ‘Nanda boy’ (of the Delhi BMW road-massacre fame) being hanged'

I felt she had a point about Sharma and Nanda, though I don’t believe our justice system should be hanging anyone, so I would have changed their sentences to serious quadruple life-imprisonments. As to the rest, I held my absent opinion in abeyance.

I picked up the sodden newspaper from where the tearful Sanj-bhakt had dropped it as she left the table to go launch an email campaign. It seemed Justice Kode had been very kind, almost contrite, in delivering his sentence on Dutt. According to the reports, the burden of the judicial song seemed to have been: I’m really, really sorry dear boy, but I do have to send you to jail. I’m only taking six years of your life (actually four), which is nothing. Your father was a great actor. So was Gregory Peck, who acted till he was a hundred years old. You, too, will be able to emulate your father and Gregory Peck. You will only be 52 or so when you come out, so that leaves a lot of time, like possibly 48 more years of acting, so please don’t be too upset.

Dutt apparently said, “Sir, you know me better than my family.”

All of which made one think this could be the beginning of a beautiful relationship between sentencee and sentencer; that, really, it would surprise no one were the Hon’ble Justice to quickly finish sending other Blast Accused to the long-drop chop-chop and rush off to spend the four years of RI with Sanju in Yeravada Jail.

But then one reminded oneself that one can’t trust what one reads in the papers. Therefore, the sentencing must obviously have been a stern, dignified, sombre and strictly fair business as behooves an Indian court.

One believed this till TV struck back on behalf of the media a couple of days later. On “We the People”, the erstwhile police chief of Bombay showed himself to be ballistically unhappy at the TADA element having been removed from Dutt’s chargesheet. At the opposite end, Anupam Kher said, “Sanjay is a friend of mine. I know him. So I can only react emotionally to this.”

Teesta Setalvad raised the excellent point that no one had been brought to justice for the 92-93 Shiv Sena-led riots and murders preceding the Bombay blasts. The police commissioner was silent on this, but coming back to Sanjay, he thought it strange that a man who had a police van stationed outside his bungalow (father Sunil Dutt then being an MP), should need a brace of AK-56s and sundry hand-grenades as back-up for protection. In reply it was pointed out that the police were hardly to be trusted, given their recent record of standing by or aiding and abetting rampaging Hindu fascist mobs.

In the brilliant play of the French writer, Jean Genet, The Balcony, there is an exchange between two very frightened sex-workers during a revolution. It goes something like this:

“Who will protect us'”

“Why, the police, of course! They are standing right outside the brothel!”

“Oh' And who will protect us from the Police'”

It’s doubtful whether Sanjubaba has ever read Genet, but based on this argument he’d got the point without any knowledge of modern French theatre. We had the newspapers at it again. “Sanjay to learn sewing or cooking in Yeravada Jail,” they informed us, explaining that those would be the two choices of “rigorous imprisonment” facing Mr D. The mind boggled at the ironies and the possibilities. The ironies were beautiful — Yeravada is the historical incarceration joint for many great leaders of our nationalist movement, including, if I’m not wrong, MKG himself, so what better place for Munnabhai 56-walla' As to the possibilities, I can imagine Tarun Tahiliani or someone selling his new line of “unique creations” big-time — a line of couture perhaps called “In Stir” or “Spell Bound”, with a sub-tag: “Hand-Stitched by Sanjay D”, the dresses being scooped up by Western celebs, including a very supportive Paris Hilton.

A lot of the flippancy, however, went out of the window when someone brought a DVD of a recent Bombay film called Shootout at Lokhandwala. The film purports to tell us the story of the decimation of a notorious Bhai-bunch by a squad of elite Bombay policemen. The flick is tightly made and nicely mounted. There is charismatic Inspector Khan, who forms something called ATS (Anti-terrorist Squad), a ruthless unit whose sole aim is to rid Bombay of its pau-mafia. There is the (equally charismatic) gang of gangsters who are Human but Cruel; they love, they laugh, but they also torture and kill. Inspector Khan has seen too many of his brave and honest cop-colleagues being gunned down by these goondas and he figures the only way to get the vermin is to Get Them, i.e., to shoot them wherever they are found, without the effete fripperies of arrest, trial, judgment and jail. In the end, the dirty-Harrys of the ATS tapkao the anti-heroes. The heroic cops are then put on trial. Amitabh Bachchan as defence lawyer gets them off but the ATS is summarily disbanded. The Bombay blasts take place immediately after this, the end-titles tell us, implying that had the ATS not been disbanded the terrorists may have been stopped by men such as Khan.

The methods of Inspector Khan are portrayed without any pulling of narrative or visual punches. When one Bhai-let is captured he laughs at the cop, boasting he will be out in three days. The cop summarily throws him over the side of the roof. When another gang-member is captured and brought to Khan, the inspector calls the policemen to surround him, shielding him from the gaze of bystanders and a TV crew. Then Khan pulls out his gun and puts a bullet into the gangster’s brain. “I said, shoot to kill!” he says as he walks away. Sanjay Dutt may have yanked back his muscular punching-arm several times in the Munnabhai films but in this movie he plays the role of Inspector Khan with great relish.

Given the current situation, this thows up an über-ironical image that only Bombay could have produced: imagine Dutt as Khan catching Dutt, the rich-brat film star with Bhai connections. “Abey, bol! Yeh sab kya hai'” asks Khan, and, without waiting for an answer, snarls “Saala, ghar pey AK 56 rakhta hai' Udaa do isko!” and studs the hapless stud with a whole magazine from his automatic. If Dutt’s enthusiastic participation in this dangerous film is to be taken seriously then what he seems to be saying is that this, perhaps, is exactly what should have happened.

But, as we know, life is stranger than fiction, even stranger than Bollywood. Apparently, among Sanjay Dutt’s car-fleet is a new Ferrari; apparently, what Sanju likes to do is go for night drives on the smooth Bombay-Poona highway. What happens is, Dutt zips ahead while a Jeep carrying extra cans of petrol follows behind. When Dutt’s tank runs out of petrol, he pulls over and waits for the Jeep to catch up. Then they re-fill the tank and off he goes again, till they reach Poona. Then they turn around and come back, following the same procedure of innocent fun. Therefore, a far more realistic scene than Dutt Encountering Dutt might be of our man as he comes out in a couple of years, his sentence mitigated by a multi-band antibiotic of ‘good behaviour’ political considerations and juridical puppetry. The favourite sports-car would be waiting for him at the gate, as would the Jeep. He would get into the Ferrari and drive back to Bombay, grinning all the way, thanking his stars he’s neither the lower-middle-class Munnabhai of the chawls nor the overly upright Inspector Khan, bunker-keeper of the bourgeoisie, but a truly bindaas son of Mother India.

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