Sanjay Dutt's life a cautionary tale

Last Updated: Wed, Mar 27, 2013 08:59 hrs

Sanjay Dutt and I inhabited the same milieu around the same time. Our parents had been friends and shared a mutual regard, predicated on nationalism, Nehru-worship and a prevailing left-of-centre bias.

Growing up as we did in the Mumbai of the '70s, there were opportunities for bumping into the gangly star-son: at the end of year, at the Mood Indigo rock concert held on the IIT Bombay campus, where local rock bands belted out popular covers and the atmosphere was rife with funny-smelling smoke; at the discotheque 'Cellar' located at the newly-built Oberoi hotel where the young and restless displayed the courage of their convulsions; and at film premieres and mahurats when he was on holiday from The Lawrence School, Sanawar.

Even the choice of his school was an instance of the milieu - one of the few co-ed institutions of its time, nestled in the hills of northern India, it was the first place where the reigning stars of Bollywood parked their progeny in the hope of better education. The children of Shammi Kapoor, Pran and Balraj Sahni were also alumni.

In many ways, its location, reminding the stars who largely hailed from Rawalpindi and Lahore of the landscapes of their youth, coupled with its relative liberal canon was what appealed to these well-heeled families. There was nothing in those days to suggest that young Dutt's life and career would be anything out of the ordinary.

After all, his future was cut out for him: he would be launched by his father in an in-house production showcasing young love with a new girl. After a media-hyped romance with his first co-star and a couple of middling successes and high-profile romances, he would become a Bollywood staple, enjoying the fruits of stardom - a bungalow at Pali Hill, obsequious fans queuing up outside his door and the thrill of racing a clutch of sports cars up and down the bylanes of Pali Hill and Bandra Bandstand.

After all, the sons of Raj Kapoor, Salim Khan, Rajendra Kumar had more or less occupied the same career brief.

But Dutt's life turned out to be different - very different: Heroin addiction, a two-year stint at a Texan rehab clinic, the deaths of his mother and first wife of cancer, a bitter custody battle for his eldest child, estrangement from his family, sundry brawls, run-ins with the law and his neighbours, long incarceration in some of the country's toughest prisons, much truck with the underworld, bizarre political affiliations with the likes of Bal Thackeray and Amar Singh, a bid at electoral politics and perhaps even worse. Stuff that the son of two of India's most respected stars would hardly be associated with and far-removed from the lives of his Lawrence schoolmates or even his film fraternity peers.

What made the difference? Drugs? Bad parenting? The '70s? Wrong company? Misdirected sentimentality? A bit of all of the above? From the tweets of his peers after the Supreme Court sentenced him to five years in jail for getting guns from gangsters involved in the 1993 bombings in Mumbai, it's obvious that Dutt enjoys a lot of affection and admiration from his community.

As a man he is being described as "one of the nicest guys" and as "having a heart of gold".

But for some reason I cannot get myself to respond in kind. Dutt's choices were made by him and he alone has to face responsibility for them.

His story is a cautionary one, a morality tale of inexplicable rolls of dice and snakes and ladders reminding us all that "There but for the grace of God…"

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