Sanjay Dutt: As an actor, I definitely can't be in the area I was in 20 years ago.
Sanjay Dutt He is on his way to rediscover himself as an interpreter. At 60, the actor He prefers to be age-appropriate on the screen instead of trying to fit in the roles that suited him two decades ago. In a conversation with BT, Sanjay talks about what matters to him today as an artist, and his role as Ahmad Shah Abdali in the historical war drama of Ashutosh Gowariker, Panipat . Excerpts
Your Panipat director, Ashutosh Gowariker and you go back a long way. You featured in Mahesh Bhatt’s Naam (1986) in which he was your co-actor. How was it reconnecting with him as a director on Panipat?
It was fantastic! In Naam, I played a cab driver. We had connected well on that film, and then, went our separate ways. I was not surprised, but very happy when he came to me with Panipat and a role like that of Ahmad Shah Abdali, who is considered as the father of Afghanistan.
Ashutosh told BT that he often asked you to undo your characteristic walking style when you were on set and in the character. Other than that, was it difficult to get into the skin of the paper?
No, and I have Ashu to thank for that. It's a great role. We’re depicting what happened in history and he is a real character. The character has many shades and a fantastic arc. The turmoil within his tribe, his entry into India and the realization that he was fighting a battle he shouldn’t be, were interesting to depict. And yes, I really had to take care of my walk. Ashu would always check on that. He would often say, ‘Sanju, I want Ahmad Shah Abdali.’ But smaller details like this make a large difference to how an actor plays his part.
In the last 18 months, he also shot Kalank (2019), Prassthanam and Torbaaz. Was it difficult to work on projects in rapid succession or simultaneously?
I don't think it was difficult to do any of these films while shooting the others. I've been working for 40 years, and earlier, it was normal for actor s to work on multiple projects at one time. Having said that, you need the director of each film to hold you together. That is important for me to be on the right path as far as my performance is concerned. I wanted to know everything about Abdali, what happened and why. Ashu provided those details, which came in very handy.
Ashutosh made another observation about you. He feels that not only are you calmer and more focused than ever, but you are also eager to reinvent yourself at this stage of your career. Do you agree?
As an actor, today, I don't know where I am exactly, but I know that I want to keep working on characters that seem relevant to me. I have always been focussed on my work. Maybe, it didn’t show it the way it does now or maybe people didn’t see it that way back then. The roles I played in Naam, Sadak (1991), Saajan (1991), Munnabhai MBBS (2003) and Agneepath (2012) were all complex characters. Approaching them without any focus would have led to complete mayhem. Such roles don’t work if the actor doesn’t concentrate. As for trying out newer and tougher roles, I would say that yes, people are approaching me with challenging characters, but it’s a conscious effort on my part to tap that space. I definitely cannot be in the zone that I was in 20 years ago. I want to do good work, the way actor s after a certain age do in America. Look at Mel Gibson, Kevin Costner or Robert De Niro. They have been unbelievably good at every age. I wanted to move on, too, and I am happy that it has also worked for my audience. You have to come to terms with the fact that you’re older, and you have to take that leap of faith. I did and it got me into a better zone as an actor. I can’t do what Kartik Aaryan and Ayushmann Khurrana are doing today. They’re the heroes of this generation, who can do all the romance and singing.
While you are tapping the character- actor zone, do you think that actor s have better roles to pick from in that space today than what was available 20 years ago?
You know this is just a phase that comes and goes. Heroism in movies is a strong idea and will always be there. In southern movies, a hero never dies and the herogiri never goes out of style. In Hindi cinema, you can watch Rohit Shetty movies like Singham (2011) and Simmba (2018). They are all heroic cops. In short, the hero will return. While I can't be the typical hero anymore, I can be the kind of hero that Denzel Washington plays in his movies. He's older, but the movie revolves around him. I don't write stories, but I do suggest things I would like to work on. As the space of a mature action hero, I am always interested. Of course, that is not something that has found complete acceptance here at this time; But we are getting there. Sadak 2 is an example of that.
Lately, he has been working with many of his former colleagues, including Ashutosh Gowariker, Chunky Panday, Jackie Shroff, Pooja Bhatt, Manisha Koirala and Mahesh Bhatt. How does it feel to be in the same workspace with them after so many years?
Age has a lot to do with wisdom, and it comes with age. When we were younger, we used to do many things that we no longer do. Today, when I meet my former colleagues, we spend time remembering the past. We had such a beautiful trip together. We were close to each other, regardless of everything that had happened. Whether Jackie, Anilji (Anil Kapoor) or Chunky, it didn't matter who shone. We were together, united, which I don't find happening in the industry today. I hope that changes because this industry is a big happy family and we should not forget that. Today's scenario is much more career-oriented and professional, but people must ensure that they support each other in good and bad times.
Speaking that the industry is a big family, a recent photo of you with Rishi and Neetu Kapoor went viral on social media. It seemed an emotional moment for all of you ...
Chintu sir (Rishi Kapoor) and I have worked together in several films. I appreciate him as an actor and a person. I couldn’t visit him in the US when he was undergoing treatment though I stayed in touch with him and Neetuji, just the way they were with me when I was in jail. I can't get the visa to travel, but I would have been by his side if that was possible. When he returned home, I felt deeply emotional and wanted to spend some time with him, not in the capacity of an actor or a fraternity member, but as a younger brother.