Tomorrow June 6 is the fourteenth birth anniversary of actor-turned-politician Sunil Dutt who would have celebrated his 92nd birth anniversary tomorrow on June 6 had he not passed away on May 25 way back in the year 2004. To commemorate his birth anniversary, senior journalist JYOTHI VENKATESH who knew him very closely pencils in his thoughts about the great filmmaker cum actor.
I miss Dutt Saab’s presence today amidst us because there is hardly any star today who can come anywhere near his caliber and generosity. Though he was quite senior to me, we used to meet once in a blue moon. In fact, once when he asked me to meet him at his bungalow for an interview and I asked him if I could meet on a Sunday instead of the next day as it was a working day for me at the hotel and I would not be given a day off by my boss Mr R.K Choudhary, it was he who very strictly told me when I was working with Hotel Oberoi Sheraton as an Accounts Supervisor that if I wanted to pursue freelance journalism, it was necessary that I quit my job and concentrate on journalism full time because sailing in two boats would not at all be conducive to me.
I have not met Sanjay Dutt at all ever since I bumped into him at the Double Dhamaal premiere but Unlike the stars of today who host parties where the press is treated separately outside the red carpet, his father Sunil Dutt reveled in throwing lavish parties where he used to drink along with the media guys at his spacious bungalow, where his son Sanjay Dutt had constructed a multi storied building Imperial Heights where he lives in the top floor. I remember he used to advice me to have wine instead of whisky because whisky is harmful especially after one crosses the ripe age of 50.
I also remember the first time Duttsaab had asked me to go to his bungalow to interview his son Sanjay who he was planning to introduce in his film Rocky. This was in 1981 before Sanjay was exposed to the media. Duttsaab wanted me to be the first to interview his son. However, when I reached his bungalow, Sanjay was found fast asleep in the verandah and in spite of my knocking him, he did not wake up at all and I had to complain to Nargisji that Duttsaab had asked me to come down and interview their son Sanjay but he was showing no signs of waking up. It was Nargisji who ultimately managed to wake him up and coax him to give me an interview though he was not at all willing.
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I just cannot forget how Sunil Dutt braved the grueling heat and travelled on top of a truck for his campaign when he was standing for elections as a Congress party candidate during the 1983 elections and I had even volunteered to canvas for him by going along with him in his constituency, especially to Bandra where a large chunk of Tamilians lived. Duttsaab was surprised when I took to the mike , and after announcing Vazhga Thamizhagam (Long Live Tamil Nadu)Vazhga Maharashtram (Long Live Maharashtra) and exhorted all the Tamil voters to vote for him in chaste Tamil and they all clapped in return. Today, it is sad that an Urmila Matondkar in Mumbai or Sunny Deol in Gurdaspur do not at all need the media to canvas for them. In those good old days, the actors including Sunil Dutt and Rajesh Khanna did not carry along with them sturdy hatta katta bodyguards and bouncers like a Salman Khan or even an Ayushmann Khurrana do today and what’s more were easily accessible for the common man.
I remember when one afternoon I had gone to meet him at his office in Bandra after the death of his wife Smt Nargis Dutt, Sunil Dutt had offered me a cup of tea and confessed, “I have so many things to do which I had left unattended earlier when I did not know what was happening around me. Though I confess I do feel lost because there is a vacuum in my life after Nargis’s death. I now realize that I should now devote time to do all those little things which I had wanted to do-settle deals and negotiations. I am happy at the response my son Sanjay has received at the box office for his acting in my film Rocky. I have asked him to sign only a few selected films because in this industry what matters is not quantity but quality. Only if you think that you can do enough justice to a role you should accept it, I told him”, he had added.
Dutt Saab also told me that he had already planned two films with Sanjay Dutt as the leading man and will be directing both the films. One of them will star Sanjay, Padmini Kolhapure, Mithun Chakraborty and South’s Sapna, another model turned heroine. “Under the aegis of the Ajanta Arts banner, I want to make every year at least one good film as a tribute to Nargis. Thankfully my banner is sound and safe because my last film Nehle Pe Dehla had turned out to be a super duper hit”.
Duttsaab had continued, “I would not make an art film without keeping an eye on the box office. A film should be commercially viable and in a position to recover its cost of production. Why should a film be made just for the sake of leaving it in the safe custody of the Film Archives? When I pledge to make at least one film every year as a mark of tribute to Nargisji, my responsibility is also increasing threefold. “I plan to first of all make a trust in the name of Nargisji. The proceedings of every film that I make will be credited to the trust which will undertake the job of fulfilling Nargisji’s ambition- that is bettering the lives of spastic children. I have also told the stars who would be working in my film that I wouldn’t be paying them at all. Most of them have agreed to work for me without charging me any money. And why should any star agree to work free of charge for me? Some of the stars would accept less than half of what they are charging outside for their services.
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On May 3, 1982, his wife’s first death anniversary, Duttsaab planned to release the first of his planned films. It was Dard Ka Rishta about a widower and his daughter who is afflicted with cancer. He had planned the project even before Nargisji had died. It is just a quirk of irony that he launched the film after his wife passed away. Duttsaab had told me once, “Whenever my wife and I used to pass via Jaslok, she used to tell me with tears in her eyes that a day should come in India when even the poor man on the street will be able to get medical aid free of charge. Why should a poor man be deprived of an opportunity to be treated for cancer? A disease doesn’t select its clients. I want to make a hospital for the spastic children. It was my late wife’s pet project.”