April 03, 2020
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Dutt Vs Dutt

An SP ticket for Sanjay Dutt brings a family feud to the fore

Dutt Vs Dutt
illustration by Sandeep Adhwaryu
Dutt Vs Dutt
Sanjay Dutt may have recently broken off his production tie-up with Ekta Kapoor, but the family feud that erupted in public last week, following his decision to contest elections on a Samajwadi Party ticket, could well have been straight off the script of a typical Ekta serial.

It all began with his younger sister and Mumbai Congress MP Priya Dutt expressing her unhappiness over Sanjay hitching his wagon to the Samajwadi Party instead of the Congress, the party to which the family has traditionally been loyal. She went on to allege that Sanjay's political ambitions were more his wife Maanyata's than his own. Soon enough, you had Sanjay taking the war of words forward, by offering politically incorrect sound bites on how a woman shouldn't keep her father's surname after her marriage; how "no sister gets along with her brother's wife"; and that the only true Mr and Mrs Dutt, inheritors of the Sunil Dutt-Nargis legacy, were he and Maanyata, not Priya.

The differences between the Dutt sisters and their brother have been brewing for a while. It's a familiar melodramatic saga of how a once-close-knit family splintered apart after the entry of the infamous bahu. Priya (the more vocal of the Dutt sisters) had already expressed displeasure when she learnt of Sanjay's wedding with Maanyata through the media, and not from her brother himself; worse, the sisters weren't even invited to the ceremony. In a colourful love life, Sanjay has had several girlfriends (including Tina Munim and Madhuri Dixit) and has been married twice—to Richa Sharma (who died of cancer) and Rhea Pillai. The sisters had no problem getting along with any of them—it's with Maanyata, a woman with a supposedly dubious past (see box), that they have serious issues. "There's definitely a distance. I have my own ideals," Priya told the press.

Though filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt still sees them as a close family ("there are far too many memories gluing them together"), it's no secret that Sanjay has been unstable in relationships, and lacks discretion in his choice of women, friends and associates. Maanyata's entry has changed his inner circle entirely, wrenched him away from family and friends who have stood by him through his years of waywardness, drug addiction and imprisonment. His once-close friends, like filmmakers Sanjay Gupta and Mahesh Manjrekar, have distanced themselves entirely. Maanyata, who also manages Sanjay's film production business, says she has brought responsibility and stability into Sanjay's life and has defended her decision to keep his so-called friends at bay. "There were too many people trying to use him. I came like a barricade between him and those who wanted to use him," she said in an interview.

However, the instability is still evident in Sanjay's see-sawing on his entry into politics, his stance shifting by the day, from "I am always there for Soniaji and Rahulji", to "I am disappointed with the Congress. It was not there for me in my hour of need", to thanking Digvijay Singh for standing by him, and dithering about whether he would contest from Lucknow against A.B. Vajpayee.

What is becoming increasingly evident is that it's more Maanyata's decision than his own. At the recent Hindustan Times summit, while Sanjay was evasive about entering politics, it was Maanyata, sitting in the audience, who declared he should and he will (join politics) when HT advisory editorial director Vir Sanghvi directed the question at her. Her political ambitions were also evident when she led the peace march at the Gateway after the terror attacks. "She wants to be an MP's wife and achieve her own goals by keeping her hold on him," says an insider, who adds that it was also Maanyata's way of getting even with Priya, who had assumed Sunil Dutt's political mantle.

Active help and support for Munnabhai seems to have come from his team of Circuits—Amar Singh and Jaya Bachchan. Amar Singh is rumoured to have flown to Cape Town last July to woo Sanjay, and Jaya is reported to have advised Maanyata to ask people for votes as "moonh dikhai" for Sanjay's bahu. Maanyata recently flew to Vaishno Devi in Anil Ambani's plane.

Sanjay's political ambitions are perhaps also fuelled by other factors—as a means of cleaning up his tarnished image, especially at a time when his filmi career is in doldrums. His most recent film, EMI, bombed big time at the box office, and Kidnap and Mehbooba also flopped. He also faces legal obstacles—he needs a stay on his conviction and a suspension of sentence from the Supreme Court to be eligible to contest. It remains to be seen if political reinvention, capitalising on his enduring Munnabhai image, works for this fading star.

By Lata Khubchandani and Namrata Joshi
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