Ranbir Kapoor has become Sanjay Dutt in swagger and soul — Vidhu Vinod Chopra 

I don’t count days when my film is about to release, but yes, there are not many days left now!” Vidhu Vinod Chopra chuckles when we count down the days to his June 29 biggie Sanju. Vinod — as he is popularly known in the industry — has produced the Rajkumar Hirani-directed biopic on Sanjay Dutt, which has Ranbir Kapoor playing the actor. 

By Priyanka Roy
  • Published 20.06.18
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Ranbir Kapoor and Sonam Kapoor in Sanju

I don’t count days when my film is about to release, but yes, there are not many days left now!” Vidhu Vinod Chopra chuckles when we count down the days to his June 29 biggie Sanju. Vinod — as he is popularly known in the industry — has produced the Rajkumar Hirani-directed biopic on Sanjay Dutt, which has Ranbir Kapoor playing the actor. 

Sipping on tea on a cloudy Saturday afternoon at Novotel Kolkata Hotel & Residences, t2 caught up with 65-year-old Chopra — the man who’s directed films like Parinda and 1942: A Love Story — for a chat on Sanju and why he initially wanted Ranveer Singh — and not Ranbir — to play Sanjay Dutt!

You apparently initially said ‘no’ when Rajkumar Hirani told you he wanted to make a film on Sanjay Dutt’s life?

Yes, I did. When he told me, I was like, ‘What’s there in Sanjay Dutt’s life that merits being made into a film?! It’s better you make a film on my life… how I left Kashmir as a young boy and struggled when I came to Bombay.’ (Laughs) I thought Raju and Abhijat (Joshi, Sanju’s co-writer) had lost their minds! 

At that time, Sanjay Dutt had just come out of jail and Raju had gone to speak to him about the next Munna Bhai film. We were then planning to make ‘Munna Bhai Chale Jail’ and I sent Raju to speak to Sanju and get some inputs from him. But Raju came back with something else! 

But when he sat me down and started narrating all that had happened in Sanju’s life, I was stunned! At first, I thought it was hogwash… that Sanju was somehow not telling Raju the truth, but when we started researching all that he’s said — from the 308 girlfriends he had to how he begged on the streets of US for the money to buy a bus ticket — we realised that everything he had told us was true! 

When the film was being written, I discovered a Sanjay Dutt I didn’t know… a Sunil Dutt I didn’t know… and this after having known them for 20-25 years. I was stunned to know that the scene in Munna Bhai MBBS when Dutt saab and Sanju cry after the son asks the father’s forgiveness and they hug each other was actually real… that they were crying for real. Imagine I was standing there on the set of Munna Bhai and I had no idea they were actually living that scene! We have kept it in the film. 

Is the sense of responsibility in making a film on his life more because you’ve known Sanjay Dutt and his family for so long?

The stories that Sanju has told us are mind-boggling. We were like, ‘Are you sure you want the world to know this about you?!’ He had no problems with it, so why should we? Sanju wants the world to know his story and honestly, I don’t think we are answerable to him at all. We are answerable to the people who will come to watch this film… we have to give them a good film. We have, of course, taken cinematic liberties and added some fictional bits, but Sanjay Dutt is well aware of all that.   

There are apprehensions that the film will glorify a controversial figure…
When you watch the film, you will know it glorifies nobody. People are saying biopic hai, but essentially, Sanju is a father-son story. It’s a very emotional story, kuch glorification nahin hain. And anyway why should we glorify? Nobody has given us money to make this film; it’s our money. If anything, we are paying Sanjay Dutt, which is stupid… we shouldn’t be paying him. But he’s a good guy (smiles). 

Vidhu Vinod Chopra with daughter Zuni at Novotel. Picture: B. Halder

What made you zero in on Ranbir Kapoor to play Sanjay Dutt?

It was Raju’s idea to cast Ranbir. When he told me about Ranbir, I wasn’t happy at all. I thought someone else, like Ranveer Singh, could play this role much better. I thought Ranveer had the flamboyance, the emotional depth as well as the ability to change himself completely to play Sanjay Dutt. 

But Raju was adamant that Ranbir would be perfect. And when we started shooting and Ranbir became Sanjay Dutt, I had to kind of eat my words. I think I can best sum this up by saying that Ranbir has become Sanjay Dutt both in swagger and soul.    

This is your fifth film with Rajkumar Hirani. What works for the friendship and partnership that you share?

I don’t even know if I can call myself a producer of Raju’s films. He produces them himself. But we have a working relationship that somehow feels much more than just a working relationship. We understand each other very well. He’s the direct opposite of me; I am this strong-headed, stubborn man, Raju is the gentlest soul you will ever know. I sometimes throw a fit and say, ‘Yeh nahin hoga, woh nahin hoga’, but Raju knows I don’t mean a word I say. He knows I will come around after sometime, and so do I.  

It’s been 11 years since Eklavya, the last Hindi film you directed. When will we see you directing a Bollywood film?

There’s a surprise in Sanju… there will be an announcement of my next film there. I’ve directed it and we’ve already shot 60 per cent of the film very quietly. Nobody knows about it. 

I have made this film with all new people. I’ve bypassed the inefficiency of the Bollywood system — which put me off making films for so many years — by shooting with a cameraman who’s never shot a film before; I’ve worked with an editor who’s never edited before and actors who’ve never faced the camera before my film. I’ve picked them from the villages. When you watch Sanju, please make sure you go on time… don’t miss the trailer of my film! 

What was it like directing a film after so many years?

Honestly, I had great fun! I did this film because I really wanted to do it. I have no point to prove.  

You remade your own Parinda as your Hollywood debut Broken Horses in 2015. Do you plan on making another Holly film?

Unfortunately, it’s a film that no one saw! (Laughs) So that kind of puts paid to any plans as of now. But honestly, I don’t plan anything. I go where my life takes me. I am here in Calcutta today… I had no plans of being here 24 hours ago. I lead my life not by planning, but by letting my life lead me.   

You’ve had a Calcutta connection in the form of filmmaker Ritwik Ghatak who you assisted…  

Oh, even though I’ve come here for different things and at different phases of my life — we parked ourselves here for months when we shot Parineeta (the 2005 Pradeep Sarkar film he produced) — my Calcutta connect is undoubtedly Ritwik Ghatak. He was a great guy. I miss him. He gave me my name. I was called Vinod Kumar Chopra. He wanted me to attach the name Vidhu. He used to call me ‘Bidhu!’ (Laughs) I learnt cinema from him. The usage of sound, I learnt from Ritwik Ghatak. I owe a lot to him. 

Do you watch films other than your own?

My wife (Anupama Chopra) is a critic, so yes, I do watch some of the films she tells me to watch. I don’t really care much for them, honestly. I mostly keep myself limited to my world and my movies. I have very little regard for the films that come out of Bombay. I’m not saying this for effect, but I don’t watch them… I think they are a waste of time. 

But I did watch a Bengali film directed by Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury who made Pink. I just can’t remember the film’s name, but I thought it was a good film. Shantanu Moitra, who has made music for many films of mine, is my Bengali spy… he tells me what to watch! (Laughs)

You are as famous for your mercurial temperament as you are for your films. Have you mellowed over the years?

I don’t know whether I’ve mellowed or not. But Anu has been a good influence on me… she’s a mellow soul. We’ve been together 23 years and something of her has rubbed off on me. Hopefully (smiles). 

You must be incredibly proud of your daughter Zuni…

My daughter is a star. She’s brought me here today. Let me show you something. (Fishes out his phone and shows us a poem written by Zuni) This is what she wrote on my birthday when she was 10. It’s incredible… have you seen the depth of the writing? I couldn’t even write a line when I was 10! 

I am looking forward to Sanju because... Tell t2@abp.in