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Bollywood superstar Sanjay Dutt at the Dubai Marina Beach Resort & Spa on 17th September, 2019. Photo Clint Egbert/Gulf News Image Credit:

Nobody can deny that Sanjay Dutt’s life has been one endless roller-coaster loop.

In between highs with films such as ‘Vaastav’ and the ‘Munnabhai’ series and traumatising lows that saw him brandished a terrorist (a charge for which he was later exonerated), the Bollywood actor appears to have finally stepped off the ride to plant his feet firmly on the ground for this next chapter in his life.

Sixty may be a milestone year for many to signal retirement, but the actor is embracing his freedom and the start of a new decade with plans to expand his production empire and focus on making ‘content-driven’ cinema and web shows under the Sanjay S Dutt banner.

Acting, which remains his first love, will continue, with a bevy of envious films in the pipeline, including a sequel to ‘Khalnayak’, his monster hit from 1993, along with ‘Sadak 2’ and the next in the ‘Munnabhai’ franchise. Ahead of his visit to Dubai, Dutt also signed on to play a pivotal role in the historical epic ‘Prithviraj’, with Akshay Kumar leading the project.

With his latest political thriller, ‘Prassthanam’, now playing in UAE cinemas, Gulf News tabloid! sat down with the actor to talk about the production and plans for building his legacy with the help of his wife and business partner, Manyata Dutt.

Brand building

‘Prassthanam’, which has opened to mixed reviews, is the remake of a 2010 Telugu film directed by Deva Katta and was the first project that Sanjay S Dutt productions took on in the midst of his legal proceedings and the corresponding five-year incarceration over an illegal possession of weapons charge.

Even as the project was put on the back burner, wife Manyata worked in the wings to make it viable once Dutt was released from prison in 2016.

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“I saw ‘Prassthanam’ years ago and immediately knew this was a very powerful subject that would appeal to the audience of today,” Dutt told Gulf News tabloid!. “It’s a family drama at its heart and it talks about values and relationships. We wanted the film centred around the world of politics because of its connectivity. People know about legacy politics and that made it a viable project for Sanjay S Dutt productions to launch with.”

The film features Dutt in the lead as the patriarch of a political empire, who falls from grace when power and greed divide his family and he is forced to make the choice between his stepson, groomed to take over the power seat one day, and his real son, one whose trail of terror cannot be denied.

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The all-star cast in this game of thrones includes veteran stars Jackie Shroff, Manisha Koirala and Chunky Pandey, each of whom signed on the project following a phone call from Dutt.

“Sanjay S Dutt productions works in two ways. One is the creative, which I take care of. My wife is into the finances and the business side of things. We made a deliberate attempt to take great actors like Jackie and Manisha to star in this film.”

Dealing with competition

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Bollywood superstar Sanjay Dutt arrives at the Dubai Marina Beach Resort & Spa on 17th September, 2019. Photo Clint Egbert/Gulf News

Dutt says the film imbibes the production house philosophy of creating content that entertains.

“This film is a stepping stone of sorts for Sanjay Dutt productions and the kind of content we are making. If you look at ‘Baahubali’, it’s a contemporary take on an old story, but it’s been pitched for today’s times and that is the brilliance of that director [SS Rajamouli]. Deva Katta has done a similar job in balancing the content.”

According to film distributor Shreyans Hirawat, Managing Director of NH Studioz, ‘Prassthanam’ has been released across 100 screens in the UAE, along with 200 screens globally (excluding India). However, the film’s ultimate market share remains a sore point with Dutt, who has to compete with two other Bollywood releases out the same week: ‘Pal Pal Dil Ke Paas’ and ‘The Zoya Factor’.

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Both films feature stars kids of Dutt’s contemporaries. While the former served as the launch vehicle for Sunny Deol’s son, Karan, the latter saw Anil Kapoor’s daughter Sonam slip into the eponymous role.

Some would call this healthy competition, but Dutt admits the battle at the box office ultimately sees all three films lose out in collections.

“It is very, very important to consider the business side of things when multiple films are coming out on the same day,” said Dutt. “I won’t use the word ‘compromise’, but there should be some kind of a sit-down where we decide, if one person is releasing a film, the other won’t and vice versa.

“That’s important so there’s business for all films involved. If so many films are releasing on one day, everyone’s profit [margin] is affected. Unfortunately, it just doesn’t happen in Bollywood.”

The road ahead

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Bollywood superstar Sanjay Dutt at the Dubai Marina Beach Resort & Spa on 17th September, 2019. Photo Clint Egbert/Gulf News

While two films under the Sanjay S Dutt productions have already hit the marquee, including the Marathi film ‘Baba’, five other films are in the pipeline according to the official website, with ‘Jeena Isi Ka Naam Hai’ next on the agenda, described as a ‘quirky comedy’ that will be supported by Amitabh Bachchan and Dutt’.

Other films in the list include ‘Komal B’, to be directed by Habib Faisal, horror-comedy ‘The Virgin Tree’, Punjabi film ‘Bank Loan’ and the Mudassar Aziz-directed ‘Uncle Sam Aur Hum’.

“The focus of Sanjay Dutt productions is to make content-driven cinema. They can be huge productions or small, niche movies. Basically, we are as an entertainment company and we are here to entertain people,” stated Dutt.

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Bollywood superstar Sanjay Dutt arrives at the Dubai Marina Beach Resort & Spa on 17th September, 2019. Photo Clint Egbert/Gulf News

With the current explosion of web content being produced in India, the actor revealed that also remains a focus for their brand.

“We are working on a lot of web as well. There’s a lot of content we have in the company which will be a good fit for web,” he revealed, adding that he wasn’t averse to starring in some of the productions himself, following in the footsteps of other screen-to-digital actors including Saif Ali Khan (‘Sacred Games’, Netflix), Abhishek Bachchan (‘Breathe’ Season 2, Amazon Prime Video) and Akshay Kumar (‘The End’, Amazon Prime Video).

“I would love to star in a web series as well, absolutely. I will 100 per cent do web if I get a good series to work in or a good character,” stressed Dutt.

Currently, the veteran star is also in talks with actor Tiger Shroff to spearhead the sequel of ‘Khalnayak’, which Dutt is looking to produce and star in. The rights of the film are owned by director-producer Subhash Ghai’s Mukta Arts, who helmed the original project that featured Dutt, along with Jackie Shroff and Madhuri Dixit-Nene.

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Sanjay Dutt in Khalnayak. Image Credit: Mukta Arts.

“We are definitely looking at making a sequel to ‘Khalnayak’ under the Sanjay S Dutt production house. We are still in the talking phase and have approached Tiger Shroff to star in the film,” the actor revealed.

He also confirmed he will return to the film as well as Ballu, the terrorist who has a volte face in the end of the film after the love of a woman, Ganga (played by Dixit Nene), prompts him to surrender to the police.

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Other films on the horizon for Dutt include the recently announced ‘Prithviraj’, which also stars Akshay Kumar in the lead as the legendary Maratha warrior.

“I’m playing Kakasaheb, Prithvi’s uncle who raised him and taught him the art of war; he was one of the main generals in the army. It’s a very good role,” revealed Dutt.

Quizzed about the much-anticipated third film in the Munnabhai franchise and the veteran star said the project is certainly happening next year.

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“That’s a question to ask [director-producer-writer] Rajkummar Hirani. I know he will make ‘Munnabhai 3’. He is writing it and by the end of next year we should start filming,” Dutt revealed.

With a promising future beckoning, it is only natural that we ask the legacy he wants to leave behind for his three children. “I made my own legacy and don’t carry the one my parents created. That’s what they taught me to do and what I would want for my son as well,” said Dutt.

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Dutt gets nostalgic about Dubai

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Over the years Sanjay Dutt has shot two memorable films in the UAE, ‘Naam’ (1986) and ‘Yalgaar’ (1992). Speaking about the experience, Dutt described his “lovely relationship with Dubai”, with a dose of nostalgia.

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“‘Naam’ was filmed here in the 80s. There was nothing in Dubai at the time except for Shaikh Zayed Road and the Gold Souk. Then I came to film ‘Yalgaar’ in 1990 and even though we shot largely in Fujairah at the time, Dubai had improved considerably. Then because of my prison sentence and the legal case, I wasn’t able to return until 2012. My flight had landed in Sharjah and my wife had come to pick me up. And while we were driving, I spotted lights in the horizon and asked her, ‘what place is this?’. When she told me that was Dubai glittering in the distance, I couldn’t believe it.”

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Quote/Unquote

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“I had attempted to enter politics many years ago, but I hit a lot of bumps along the way. I didn’t know how to give speeches, so let me just stick to saying dialogues in my films and leave the speeches for others,” said Dutt when asked if would consider a political career like his father, the late Sunil Dutt.