One of the most controversial and influential figures in the history of Hindi cinema celebrates his 57th birthday today. Sanjay Dutt has seen his fair share of ups and downs in both his real and reel lives and we take this opportunity to highlight some of his best performances on celluloid.
1. Naam (1986)
This was the first film for which Dutt tasted critical success as an actor. It turned out to be a turning point in his career, firmly cementing him amongst India's finest young mainstream leading actors, as he earned praise for his portrayal of an illegal immigrant in Dubai who spirals into a life of crime.
2. Sadak (1991)
Dutt received rave reviews in this noir thriller by Mahesh Bhatt for portraying a troubled insomniac taxi driver who is battling his demons. His salvation comes in the form of a prostitute, played by Pooja Bhatt and he takes it upon himself to save her from a life of misery. The film also received notices for the late Sadashiv Amrapurkar’s mesmerizing turn as a eunuch brothel owner.
3. Saajan (1991)
Dutt’s resurgence as an actor of calibre continued with the romantic drama where he played a man with a golden heart. His quiet intensity, polar opposite to the action-oriented bombastic roles that were the norm of the day, won many hearts and fetched him a nomination for Best Actor at the Filmfare Awards.
4. Dushman (1998)
Dushman came as a curious choice of material from Dutt. The movie starred Kajol, in a double role, and had a meaty negative role on offer for Ashutosh Rana. Dutt, a bonafide star no less, agreed to play a supporting turn however. He is present for barely a fraction of the runtime of the movie and yet, with his honest portrayal of the retired blind soldier, he managed to do a 360˚ and was widely applauded for his efforts.
5. Vaastav: The Reality (1999)
Vaastav is an exceptional piece of cinema. It is restrained enough to be believable. But the operatic efficiency with which it is able to show the dark underbelly of the Mumbai crime world through the eyes of the protagonist, played by Dutt, has us in awe. Dutt’s Raghu is the everyman character that the viewers can easily relate to and that’s why his descent into the world of crime becomes both fascinating as well as deeply personal for everyone watching. Dutt’s ability to tap into that rare sentiment in the viewer’s minds won him some of the best reviews of his life and multiple awards for his work.
6. Mission Kashmir (2000)
Dutt’s reinvention of self as an actor continued with Mission Kashmir, a deeply emotional tale set in the backdrop of the insurgency in Kashmir. Although it starred the then heartthrob Hrithik Roshan, Dutt’s elderly act as the no-nonsense cop had him exploring a new range of emotions wherein he not just acted his age and beyond, but also managed to be effortless and convincing doing the same. The movie, with its social commentary, was a bit heavy-handed at times but Dutt’s role had several nuances that managed to avoid all such clichés.
7. Munnabhai M.B.B.S. (2003)
The movie that changed it all however and came as a late-career resurgence for Dutt, Vidhu Vinod Chopra and Arshad Warsi is this one. Munnabhai is one of those rare movies that defined pop-culture and the references therein at a time when nobody understood the terms. Phrases like, “Mamu”, “Jaadu ki Jhappi”, and “Munna” soon assimilated in common parlance and got Dutt the recognition and popularity for a role that was not too far away from his image in real life. The movie’s sequel, Lage Raho Munnabhai continued the trend and this duology is without a shred of doubt, the best work of Dutt to date.
We wish him the best for years to come.
Title image: NDTV