By Jyothi Venkatesh
When Sanjay Dutt celebrates his 62nd birthday today, even while I wish him a happy birthday, I still remember his father and my favorite actor Sunil Dutt’s command to me almost 42 years ago. Command I like to call it because Duttsaab was like a father figure to me since he had always treated me like a son though he used to ply me with the choicest of Scotch whisky at a time when I didn’t even know what the difference between a Scotch whisky and Indian whisky was.
Quite often, I used to make it a point to meet him and tea if it was day time with him at his office at Sunrise Building at Bandra near National College where his daughter and Sanjay’s younger sister Priya Dutt has her office today and home adjacent to his theater Ajanta Arts if it was in the evening. I was working at Hotel Oberoi Sheraton then as an Accounts Supervisor though my mind and soul were in pursuing journalism, but I had no other alternative but to opt for a degree in B.Sc from S.I.E.S College in Sion just because I could not disobey my father and opt for an Arts degree
Yes. My father who is no longer alive (he passed away when he was 98 years old four years ago) used to tell me that though he know my command of the language of English was exemplary, he did not want to me to languish as a journalist on a paltry salary when he wanted me be an Engineer, like in Rajkumar Hirani’s film Munnabhai MBBS. Instead of pursuing B A (Literature) I opted for B.Sc (Chemistry and Physics and having passed with just about 56 percent, I asked my dad if I could try my luck as a journalist with Times Of India since he was then working as the P.A to the Circulation Manager Mr Subramaniam there. Seeing how restless and bent upon becoming a journalist I was, my dad took me to Mr Patanjali Sethi who was training newcomers who wanted to join Times of India.
My joy was only for a short time because after I met Mt Patanjali, who saw the clipping of my articles as a student in papers like Free Press Bulletin, Free Press Journal, Bharat Jyoti, Illustrated Weekly of India, Filmfare, Femina etc advised me to forget about becoming a journalist and opt for a well paid job elsewhere and pursue freelance journalism. While my father grinned, I had no other alternative but to apply for a steward’s post at Hotel Oberoi Sheraton, but when I went for the interview, I was told I was overqualified for the post and since there was vacancy at the Accounts Department, I was recruited as Accounts Assistant.
Sorry. I am digressing away from the main point. Dutt Saab told me that his son Sanjay Dutt who used to call himself Sunjay Dutt wanted to be an actor and he was planning to launch a film titled Rocky to introduce him as a leading man and asked me to meet him and interview him as I was writing as a freelancer for The Evening News of India courtesy Mr Sethi and Mr Kittu who was the Entertainment Editor. I remember I had asked Duttsaab like an idiot if it is okay if I could come to his bungalow after my pack up at the hotel and interview his son because I had an office to attend to, he had reprimanded me with Barkhurdar, (I did not know what the meaning of Barkhurdar) Ya to aap munshiji ka kaam karte raho ya patrakar banne ki koshish karo kyonki ek insaan do naiya mein chal nahi sakta hai and told me how he had to quit his job as an announcer to take up acting when he was offered the lead role in Railway Platform.
When I reached Duttsaab’s bungalow after bunking from the hotel after lunch, I saw Sanjay sleeping in the verandah of the bungalow and not waking up in spite of my repeated pats on his shoulders. After waiting for half an hour, when I realized that Sanjay was in a state of stupor, I decided to barge inside the bungalow and meet Mrs Nargis Dutt. who I was familiar with as Duttsaab had introduced me to her once and when I told her that Duttsaab had asked me to interview their son, in less than a minute she came up to where Sanju was sitting and dozing and sternly told him that he had to give me an interview since Duttsaab had specifically asked me to interview him. And it was Sanjay Dutt’s first ever interview to the press. They say that the first impression is always the best impression. No wonder then that there was never a great chemistry between Sanju and I ever since that day though I used to meet him off and on, though we did get well with each other, because I think secretly he resented the idea of my having complained to his mother about him.
Once when producer Yash Johar (for those uninitiated, Yashji was the late father of Karan Johar of today) had invited me to the sets of Gumraah at Film City after Sanjay Dutt had become a big star, he punished me by making me wait from 3 pm, till the pack up at 10 pm and even while I was wafting, he just vanished from the sets and it was Kunika who was acting with him then whom told me that he had already left the venue with his friends. And since Sridevi was not talking to the press, I just cursed myself for having gone all the way to the sets to interview Sanjay and it was Yashji who consoled me with drinks since the pack up was already over.
I was pleasantly surprised when at the duty free shop at the airport at Mauritius where I had gone to cover the shoot of Ratan Jain’s Akshay Kumar-Shilpa Shetty starrer Main Khiladi Tu Anadi, when my favorite Black Label scotch was not here, it was Sanjay Dutt who had come to shoot at Mauritius with his wife Rhea Pillai and was returning to Mumbai who advised me to buy a 2 liter bottle of Ballantine’s Scotch Whisky, because I would have been allowed to take to India only 1 litre of Black Label and Ballantine’s Whisky was a good whisky and he as planning to take t but decided to sacrifice it for my sake. I cannot forget that gesture of Sanju Baba till date though it was almost two decades ago.
When the entire film industry had assembled outside Thana Jail to protest against his incarceration there, I too decided to stand outside for solidarity sake, for the sake of Duty Saab though Sanjay would not have even come to know that I too was there. I did meet Sanju a few times, but then with the mushrooming of several electronic medi, we could hardly talk to each other on those occasions. In one such press conference, when I asked Sanju what plans did he have to revamp his dad’s Ajanta Theatre , he told me that he would consult me for advice but alas I have not been able to meet my dear Sanjubaba after that night.
I am waiting for you to call me to meet you dear Sanjubaba because like several fans of Duttsaab, I too am eagerly waiting for Ajanta to be renovated because that ‘s one of the few preview theatres where I used to watch films when I was newcomer in journalism in the 70’s and 80’s and after watching films, used to have drinks and dinner outside in those good old days when Dutt Saab used to drop in to chat with all of us journalists whether the film showed here was his film or some other producer’s .