Sanjay Dutt has had an interesting career in the four decades he has been in the industry. From his beginnings as the quintessential lover boy to morphing into an antihero of sorts, to finally playing the villain in big-budget movies (read Agneepath, KGF 2, Shamshera); Dutt has done it all. But after his career was hit by a personal low due to possession of illegal weapons at the time of the Bombay blasts in 1992 and his subsequent arrest, the actor’s professional fate was considered sealed.
Despite his bail and his multiple (failed) attempts to revive his career, Dutt was written off as a sinking star by many. However, even in that lull there were a few sparks, courtesy Mahesh Manjrekar’s 1999 Vaastav and Sanjay Gupta’s 2002 Reservoir Dogs remake Kaante. But even these features reinforced the image of the actor as a bad boy with a dark, mysterious edge about him. It wasn’t until 2003, when newbie director Rajkumar Hirani cast Sanjay as his leading man in Munna Bhai MBBS, that his career saw an upward swing. Rajkumar did what many had done before him, he cast Dutt as a goon, but there was a catch. This goon was lovable.
Interestingly, Sanjay Dutt had not even heard the script before he gave his nod to the movie; his reason to be a part of the film? Producer Vidhu Vinod Chopra. “Vinod is family, he’s like a brother to me,” Sanjay had said in a clip released by the production house. When Dutt’s sister Priya read the script, she thought her brother was doing ‘one of those gangster movies’ again. “I thought this was some gangster movie, and Sanjay is gonna play some bhai in the film. So I was like, ‘chalo thik hai, another film like that.’”
Munna Bhai MBBS did for Sanjay Dutt what no PR could have done for him — give him a brand new image, a persona which he could flaunt openly, the kind which immediately found resonance with the masses. Munna’s ‘jaadu ki jhappi’ and his need to win over his father (played by Sunil Dutt), made the viewers think Munna was Dutt, and Dutt was Munna. Hirani’s casting of Dutt couldn’t have been more on point, because not only did the feature revive Dutt’s career, it gave Hirani his perfect Munna. Even today, the director would be hard pressed to find someone who could embody that character better than Dutt.
Once, during an earlier interview, Sanjay Dutt had admitted that both the Munna Bhai movies had not only changed the audience’s perception towards him as an actor, but his larger brand and image as well: “All I would say is I am happy with the response the film (Munnabhai MBBS) and my role has been getting even today. It is a memorable role and very few actors get to do it. I feel am lucky to have got this role. Personally, in daily life or even career-wise, ‘Munna Bhai’ has changed my life and image in many ways.”
Years later, the same duo (Rajkumar Hirani and Sanjay Dutt) were accused of whitewashing Dutt’s image via the actor’s biopic Sanju, helmed by Hirani. Dutt, while speaking with India Today, dismissed the reports and said, “I just want to say that Munna Bhai was already made, that avatar was already out. I don’t think anyone would spend Rs 30-40 crore to change his image. That is too much of an amount. I have told the truth and the truth has been accepted by India, and the box office collection shows that.”
Munna Bhai MBBS was a bonafide success, commercially as well as critically. While critics raved about the simple but effective screenplay and the performances, the audience embraced the aspiring doctor who moonlighted as a goon with open arms. The movie made a massive 410 million against its 100 million budget.
But can you imagine Shah Rukh Khan playing the ‘gunda’ doctor in those two films? For those of you who don’t know, SRK was one of the actors who Hirani and producer Vidhu Vinod Chopra wanted as the leading man. But the superstar had to back out of the project owing to some health issues. Hirani thanked Shah Rukh for his inputs to the film in the closing credits of Munna Bhai MBBS.
You can watch Munnabhai MBBS on Amazon Prime Video, Netflix and YouTube.
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