He’s been around for three decades, and despite the highs and lows in his career, he’s still among the top actors in the industry. Other than being a brilliant actor, he’s also one of the nicest human beings the film industry has ever known. Excited about his next release, Agneepath, where he plays an out-an-out villain for the first time, Sanjay Dutt talks about his role in the film and lots more, with Vajir Singh
Let’s start with your look in Agneepath, and your character Kancha Cheena.
To be honest, it was the director’s idea. I was worried about shaving my head for the role but when he narrated the script to me and told me about the character I was going to play, I was very inspired. I really wanted to do it because it’s really a challenging character. It is the role of a larger-than-life villain, he’s a crazy kind of a man.
But going bald?
(Cuts in) We tried to use prosthetics and brought in a make-up artist from the US for this. But due to the heat while filming in Diu, the prosthetics started melting. I was also very uncomfortable wearing it and I thought it was close to impossible to wear it for the entire shooting schedule of 50 to 60 days.
Was it difficult to convince yourself to go bald?
I don’t know. I asked a few people about it. Then, one night, I decided to shut my eyes and shave my head off! (Laughs)
Wasn’t that a difficult decision, considering you’re doing so many other films at the same time?
Of course! But, then, the prosthetics were just not working. It took us about three hours to apply it and another two hours to take it off. And within half an hour or so, it would start melting. It was a very tiring process. It was a tough decision but I am happy I took it.
Karan Johar is like family to you. Did you decide to take the tough decision to go bald and play a villain because of the rapport you share with him or because of the script?
It was everything put together. Karan’s father worked in my father’s production and then he stepped out and started his own company, Dharma Productions. I was very close to him. I used to literally play in his arms. And then I also worked in Gumraah, which was Yashji’s production. I have never worked with Karan but have always had a very close family bond with him because of his parents. So when this film came about, I was sure the role would be mind-blowing for him to offer it to me. So I did it.
After spending so many years in this industry, do you believe it still works on goodwill and a good rapport?
I don’t know about the others but for me it does. Relationships are very important to me. I have helped so many people all because I believe in maintaining relationships.
Agneepath is scheduled to release in January. Do you think the audience will appreciate Hrithik Roshan beating up Sanjay Dutt on screen?
(Laughs) Abhi, villain ko toh maar khana hi hai. But it’s not like he’s a very tough villain, not the kind of villain we see inHollywood films. But it’s also not like the hero is beating up the villain from the very first scene. Kancha Cheena is a verystrong guy. You will have to watch the climax of the film to learn what type of villain Kancha Cheena really is.
Do you think we had stopped making earthy and commercial films but we are returning to that type of entertainment?
Yes. We are going back to the same action genre, which depicts heroism.
Did you miss those films?
I missed it like hell. You know, whenever I suggested that we make action films, people would react with disbelief and say that comedy was the safest bet. Now it’s the exact opposite. No one wants to make a comedy film. They are all interested in making action films.
Is that why you launched your own production house with Rascals, a comedy film?
Yes. That was one of the main reasons.
Are you happy with the way Rascals fared at the box office?
No, I am not happy. And I have nobody to blame. The thing is Ajay (Devgn) is like a brother and I want to apologise for letting him down.
Because he believed in me. You know, he didn’t read a single word from the script; he didn’t question me at all. I asked him to do the film and he did it. But I will make up for it.
Would you make another film with Ajay?
Definitely! 100 per cent.
What are your plans for your production house?
We just bought the rights of a Telugu film called Badra. That, and we are thinking of making three to four other films.
You wanted to revive your father’s banner with Beehad directed by Milan Luthria. What happened to that plan?
Now is the right time to do it. And I think I will, and Milan Luthria will be directing it.
That film was supposed to have you and Ajay in the lead.
Yes, but now I don’t know who will be starring in it. I have met Milan and asked him to rework the script but he is busy with The Dirty Picture. He will get started after that. Let’s see how the script shapes up. Then we will decide on the cast.
You have been part of Indian cinema from the ‘80s. How different was each decade?
Eighties mein, maza aata tha. Amitji and Dharam Sahab were great actors as was the entire heroism genre. I made
my debut in the late ‘80s with Rocky, which was a romantic-action film. Prior to that, Kumar Gaurav made his debut
with the romantic film, Love Story. I think there was a balance between action and romance as well as a good combination. It went well till Ajay’s Phool Aur Kante, which was romance-action with the hero in college. Action was always a very important part of the industry. I don’t know why they forgot about the action genre during this last decade. We are all action heroes. Whether me or Ajay Devgn or Jackie (Shroff) or Sunny (Deol), we all excelled in action cinema. Suddenly it went out of fashion and we started making love stories and comedies.
Was it because filmmakers thought there was more money in the overseas market?
Possibly. I think things changed with Wanted, Dabangg, Ready and Bodyguard… all these films brought action back.
Maybe we realised that the Indian market had potential with so many films crossing the Rs 100-crore mark.
You know, we forget what works. And we introduced new terms like – yeh toh multiplex ki picture hai… and yeh single screens mein chalegi or we termed films as urban and rural films. It wasn’t like this during our time. We only had single screens in India at one time. Basically, if you want to be a star or a hero, it’s not just about multiplexes; you need to have your audience even in single screens. You’re successful and established when you’re recognised not only in Mumbai or Delhi but also in places like Bihar, UP, Assam and Jharkhand. People in these states should want to watch your film. That’s when you’re a successful actor. If people beyond Thane don’t recognise you or don’t even know you, what’s the point?
Does an actor have to be a hero to connect with the Indian audience?
It’s just like earlier. Action, emotion, romance… sab hona chahiye. We had forgotten that. But now it’s all come back again.
Do you think corporate production houses have changed things?
Like you just said, the film industry is based on relationships. But that’s exactly what corporate houses couldn’t
understand. Earlier, we used to get only a single piece of paper which said you as an actor have agreed to work in my Production Number 5, 6 or 7. Now there is loads of paperwork. At least, for people like us, we thought it was ridiculous. (Laughs) Then they started teaching us what cinema really was! Hum logon ko 30 saal ho gaye iss industry mein. We don’t teach you your job, so don’t teach us what we have to do. When you enter a new industry, you need to do a lot of research. Otherwise, there is no point.
Coming back to Kancha Cheena… What was the response to your look?
Outstanding. I mean, the kind of people who met me and spoke to me. For every actor, the main criterion is that his work should be appreciated.
You were earlier quite media shy. Is it because you are happy with the response that you have decided to promote the film?
It has become a very important part of filmmaking. Earlier, we had Doordarshan as the only TV channel… and magazines like Filmfare, Stardust and Screen. Everyone knew each other. But ek journalist aur film star ka relation aaj waisa hai hinahi like it used to be so many years ago.
So where is it lacking?
It’s all about competition now, with so many magazines and so many channels. Earlier, the actors and journalist fraternities used to be like one big family. Now, it’s all about who will print or get the news first. Now, it is all about ‘I’ and not about ‘Us’. It was a very different atmosphere back then, and actors of our time really miss those days. Yes, I miss those days.