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April 4, 1997


"It has taught me to be honest, and true, at all times"

Madhumati Patel

Sanjay DuttSanjay Dutt is arguably the most spoken about actor in Bollywood, and for reasons that have as much to do with his off-screen troubles as for his on-screen appeal.

The son of actor-turned-politician Sunil Dutt and the late actress Nargis Dutt, Sanjay's life has never been free from turbulence - whether the said turbulence owes to his flirtation with hard drugs, or shooting at a scribe, or getting involved with his lovely co-stars, or being one of the suspects in the Bombay serial bomb blasts.

With a broken marriage behind him and a possible jail term ahead, Sanjay is a man literally at the crossroads today.

I find this 36-year-old on the sets of Mahanta,,in the compound of Bollywood's famed Filmalaya Studios. There are huge crowds within and without the studios, and it is obvious that most, if not all, have come in hopes of a glimpse of the star.

Within, it is evident that this mass adulation that Sanjay seems to evoke without even trying, extends to the unit hands, and even to producer Nasir Khan who, to this day, offers ritual prayers as he has been doing ever since Sanjay's incarceration.

Exclusive to Rediff On The Net, the deadly Dutt talked of ships and shoes and ceiling wax, of movies, and things…

Sanjay Dutt Sanjay, they do say that your time in prison has changed you?

How do you mean, changed me?

Word is, you are no longer the fun-loving, bubbly self you used to be…

No , I don't think that is true. I'm still my old self, though I guess I'm a little more wary now. And rather more reluctant, these days, to grant the kind of interviews I've been giving ever since I got out of jail.

Okay, so you want that this interview move away from the tried and true questions? Fine… tell me this, what was your daughter's reaction when you came out of jail, and she got to see you after such a long time?

Oh, she had missed me a lot, obviously. And she knew who I was, she's grown a lot in these last two years and is now capable of understanding, feeling the love of a daughter for a father.

And what about when you met your estranged wife, Richa, after coming out of prison?

All I can say is, I want to be always there for her, whenever she needs me. I was very happy that I could go over and see her at a time when she was really ill. Now she is much better, incidentally…

in Mahaanta with Madhuri Dixit From brat to man of the world, how does the transformation feel? What have you learnt?

Yes I was a brat, and yes, I have changed. What have I learnt? To be honest and true, I guess, all the time.

Does that mean you weren't always honest and true?

No, I was. But the thing is, I was maybe a shade too open, honest.

And this will change?

No, I don't think so. You see, while realising that a lot of my problems have come from being too trusting - I don't want to go into any detail, the case remains sub judice - I also feel that in the long run, being absolutely open, absolutely honest does pay off.

And where do you go from here? More movies? Or maybe, like your father only earlier, a shift to the political proscenium?

More movies, definitely, I feel I have things in me that have not yet been tapped. Politics? No! Never. Not in this life. Urimila Matondkar

Have you signed any new movies?

No, I have not…

But there is talk that you have signed one opposite Urmila Matondkar?

Oh, that is an old project. One I signed before I went to prison.

You said you won't get into politics? So do you intend to do anything else at all with your life, other than act in films? You've been through the grind, do you for instance see yourself doing something for people who, like you, are victims of circumstance?

Let's see, I am yet to make up my mind. See, it's been only six months since I really got out of jail on bail, even now I have to attend court every time there is a hearing on, there's the shooting and so much more, I haven't been able to sit down and think things through yet. In time, I guess, a lot of things could happen.

While in jail, you've been out of touch with Bollywood, with Bombay, right? Have you caught up yet?

Hey look, in there it is not as though you are cut off from the world - there are televisions, newspapers, magazines, they keep you in touch with what's happening. I don't think I've been cut off, really, I'm pretty much abreast of what's happening.

I recall reading that you had become intensely spiritual while in jail…

Actually, I've always been a firm believer in God, in the Supreme Power, I worship Durga Mata a lot, also Saibaba and Shivji. While in jail, I got to read a lot of books like the Ramayan, the Gita and such. I didn't much understand the Gita, though, I think that essentially you need a teacher to explain it. A guru. It's too vast and complex a book to be read and understood like a novel. And yes, while I was inside I prayed a lot - and it felt good.

So much for the mind, what of the body? You are an exercise freak, could you work out inside jail like you used to earlier?

No way, not even close… In fact, I came out not being in half the condition I was in when I went inside.

Through those long months in prison, Sanjay, you were in a situation you had no control over, and that too where you felt you were not at fault. Even the Bollywood scripts you enact, they hold that a person in such a situation feels mounting anger, frustration. How about you?

It is normal and natural, see, to get angry, frustrated, to indulge in self pity. And I, like everyone else in such situations, did go through these phases. But then you grow out of it, and above, you realise that you have to get control over your emotions, you have to reach a stage where there is no frustration, no anger towards anything or anybody. And yes, I think I have reached that stage now.

For a long time now, your every moment has been controlled by jail regimen. Now that you are out, what do you find is the most precious moment of your day?

The time when I am working, definitely. That is what I missed most while I was in there, and that is what I enjoy most today now that I'm out. To be on the sets and be creative again, that's beautiful.

Sunil Dutt We learn that your father is not contesting the elections this time. There was talk about how, in your time of trouble, your father and indeed your family was let down by the party your father is part of. Did this, did you, influence your father's decision in any way?

No, no way! I have never been involved in his decisions. Though he is a politician and I am his son, I have never campaigned for him. Nor have I been to his constituencies, or attended his party meetings. I have never interfered in his political life, how could I now influence him not to contest the elections?

Okay, you've never involved yourself in his political life thus far. But how about now? After what you've been through, have you been tempted to involve yourself in your father's…

NO! No way! Listen, I am totally, completely, non-political. Entering politics was my father's decision, contesting elections was my father's decision, not contesting this time was again his decision - my involvement is limited to supporting him in whatever he wants to do, like a son would.

Sanjay, a personal question - we understand that your girlfriend, Rhea Pillai, has a heart problem. She was supposed to be having some major problem when you got permission to visit her while you were in jail. Is it serious?

with Juhi Chawla No, definitely not. What was wrong with her at the time was nothing more than extreme stress - I think she literally worried herself sick about me. Thank God, she is now completely over it…

And where do the two of you go from here?

Frankly, we have not thought about it, I personally have yet to begin to think about the future. Having said that, I must add that I do believe in marriage as an institution, I understand its value, I believe it is one of the most important things in a person's life.

Sanjay, your history has been turbulent, and yet your parents have stood by you in everything you did. Would you do the same for your daughter? Do you think you can be as good a father for her as your father has been for you?

Not in everything she does, no. I would, having learnt from my mistakes, want to guide her and see that she doesn't make the same, or similar, mistakes. But about being there for her - of course yes, I will always be there, I am her father and I will always be around to help her. The other question, no, I don't think I can be as good a father to her as my father has been to me - my father is a wonderful, truly amazing man, he is one of a kind.

The demands of a hectic shooting schedule meant that Sanjay had to cut the conversation short, and get back to work. Which he did with the obvious pleasure of one who, for close on two years, had not been permitted to bask in the familiar, much-loved ambience of lights-camera-action.

In parting, we told him that there were so many things his thousands of fans out there in the world wanted to ask him, to know about him.

"Yeah, right," said Sanjay. "I must tell you this - while I was in jail, what kept me going was the knowledge that out there in the world, there were so many people, people I didn't even know, rooting for me, wishing me well, petitioning for my release… For all my life, I will be grateful to these people. And if they have anything at all they want to ask me, no problem… e-mail me, and I will send back my replies - that's a promise!"

And with that, he was off to be made up… for another shot… another scene… another working moment in his life…

Photographs : Jewella Miranda