Earlier this week, the Bombay High Court questioned the prolonged parole Bollywood actor Sanjay Dutt, convicted in the 1993 Bombay serial blasts case, has been enjoying.
The court rightly demanded the logic behind Dutt being out of the jail and asked if the Maharashtra government saw the actor as someone more equal than the others.
“Why this casual approach for ordinary citizens? You normally would not have shown such diligence in the case of a normal citizen,” the court observed.
That the powerful and influential thought of Dutt otherwise, someone on a higher pedestal than the others convicted in the Bombay blasts, was evident when several responsible and respected citizens rallied for a pardon last year when the Supreme Court ordered Dutt to surrender and serve the remainder of the sentence. The prime time television space exploded with the ‘national’ news channels castigating those who wanted Dutt let off since he has already ‘suffered enough’ and that when he committed the crime – that is possessing an illegal pistol and an AK56 assault rifle that supposedly came along with the consignment of weapons meant for the 1993 carnage – he was ‘only a kid’ of 34.
It was indeed surprising then, and more now, that the affluent and the enlightened of B-town continue to see Dutt as a victim of circumstances.
More often than not it has been said that Dutt has been with the wrong company in the most wrong of the times, an emotive pitch that has been consistent with the roles the actor has very successfully played on the silver screen. Some of the most defining roles in Dutt’s career have been that of a wronged anti-hero, the social antagonist, an outlaw who is a victim turned bad but good at heart, and hence his deeds -- though bad, unethical and illegal -- need to be seen within the context of circumstances.
The lead roles Dutt played in Khalnayak – the film’s release more or less coincided with his arrest in 1993 – and Vaastav (his comeback work in 1999) portray this trait. While Khalnayak shows the actor as a disillusioned young man joining a gang involved in anti-national activities, Vaastav takes us through the journey of a chawl-dweller who, by the circumstances thrust on him, becomes a feared don. In 2003 came Munnabhai MBBS and during the Bombay blast trials of 2006 its sequel – Lage Raho Munna Bhai – took Hindi cinema by storm. Again, Dutt donned the role of a gangster, this time less deadly, but good at heart, and uniquely Gandhian.
All these characters gave the dangerous traits in Dutt’s own character a celluloid credence that was otherwise absent in his public life. Deliberate or otherwise, these endeavoured to create a halo of affable badness of a man whose actions though illegal were not necessarily evil. Those who pitched for Dutt, and continue to do so, indeed see the actor thus, and hence follows the assessment of ‘having suffered enough’.
But has Dutt really suffered? And if at all, how does that make him more equal? Even the anti-socials in Khalnayak and Vaastav were punished. While the former went to jail, the latter was shot dead by his mother. Then why this discrepancy when this beloved bad man has to serve his time behind the bars?
Unlike in his films, Dutt in real life could rarely be termed a victim of circumstances. Son of erstwhile Hindi cinema stalwarts, and close to the political circles, one wonders how the logic applied to criminals who are really victims of social deprivation and relegation applies to Dutt. On the contrary, his affluence and clout bailed him out when others were nailed. It is this same elite company that today has ensured that Dutt spends 40 per cent of his jailed life outside in the name of his wife’s illness, who was also seen at a party when she should have been hospitalized.
But Dutt’s friends fail to see what the court has seen. In this habitual bid to market the troublemaker’s accepted badness, equality for all has gone for a toss, and it is an irony that people who otherwise promote righteousness have been blind to it.
Come March 21, Dutt would have spent would have enjoyed 118 days out of the 305 outside the jail. He will then again be eligible to apply for parole and furlough from May, and one wonders, if the Maharashtra government would be more discrete in executing its discretionary powers or uphold the importance of being Sanjay Dutt, who in the eyes of many, continues to be the wronged kid, even at 54.