July 25, 2020
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To Play Chess With Fate

Is the verdict of six years RI too harsh on Sanjay Dutt? Or did he deserve it for his underworld links? Updates

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To Play Chess With Fate
To Play Chess With Fate
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Not-So-Gandhian

Dec ’91: Dutt meets Dawood Ibrahim in Dubai. The two were introduced by actor-director Feroz Khan. He also meets the don's brother Anees with whom he strikes a friendship.

At a party thrown by Dawood and Anees, Dutt is introduced to other members of the D-company including Chhota Rajan, Iqbal Mirchi and Sharad Shetty.

Sept ’92: While shooting at RK Studios in Chembur, Dutt meets D-company operative, Kayyum, who offers him a .9 mm pistol and ammunition. Dutt pays Rs 40,000 in cash to Kayyum at his Pali Hill bungalow.

Feb ’93: During the 1993 Bombay riots, the Dutts receive anonymous threats for being pro-Muslim. Sanjay turns for help and protection to his D-company friends Hanif Kadawala and Samir Hingora. Hanif and Samir call on Sanjay at his bungalow with Abu Salem. The trio deliver three AK-56 rifles and 250 rounds of ammunition. Two days later Hanif, Samir and Salem take away the cache of arms, leaving behind one AK-56 rifle and a few magazines for Sanjay.

Mar 12, ’93: Bombay Blast

Apr 2, ’93: Sanjay is filming in Mauritius when he learns that Hanif and Samir have been arrested for their role in the Bombay blasts of March 12, 1993.

Dutt panics and asks his friend Yusuf Nullwalla to remove the AK-56 and the .9mm pistol hidden in a black bag and kept in the film star's room.

Nullwalla contacts Kersi Adjania, owner of a steel manufacturing unit. His task is to melt the AK-56 and throw it into the sea. But Adjania is not thorough enough and police recover parts of the rifle from his workshop. Dutt’s .9mm pistol is given to another friend, Rusi Mulla, for safe custody.

Nullwala is sentenced for five years’ imprisonment under the Arms Act and Adjania to two years. Mulla is let off on probation.

***

"I made a mistake, sir, 14 years ago!"

Thus pleaded film star Sanjay Dutt, barely audible, hands folded, on a drizzling July 31 afternoon to Judge P.D. Kode in the special TADA court hearing the Bombay serial blasts conspiracy case. The judge had just sentenced Munnabhai, as fans remember him now, to six years of rigorous imprisonment under the Arms Act for illegally possessing weapons, storing and destroying them.

As mistakes go, this was grave. Sanjay Dutt, who turned 48 two days before the sentencing, might have regaled friends with tales of the misdemeanors of his youth. But this is one lapse of reason he must regret every day. It has brought the course of his life, always full of twists and turns, triumphs and despair, to a terrible pass.

What did he do wrong? He purchased a .9 mm pistol, and accepted a gift of an AK-56 rifle and ammunition from the underworld, he broke bread and raised toasts with the mob and entertained their calls. Perhaps, as a drug-addicted youngster, Sanjay Dutt didn't learn the perils of supping with the devil. Now, the one-liner from his hit Naam must haunt him: "This criminal world has a one-way street, there's no exit." Real life had provided Sanjay Dutt with an exit when he kicked his drug habit. But he chose to continue to flirt with danger.


Sanjay Dutt arrested in 1993

When the news of his sentencing became public, the film fraternity was shocked. So were Munnabhai's countless fans. They dashed off SMSes to news channels. His friends in the film world were quick to join the chorus that he was being punished too harshly. Most thought he has suffered enough, having already spent 16 months in jail and being dragged through a trial for over thirteen years.


with girlfriend Manyata

Was the six-year sentence too tough on the star? Filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt wrote in his column: "Six years is too harsh for an act of recklessness. But in all fairness, I must add that the judiciary had a job to do. Judge Kode is impartial...he had sent signals saying there would be no partiality when it comes to anyone big or small". Bhatt is sympathetic but realistic. Many of the film fraternity fail to see it that way.

So, does the sentencing mean that Sanjay Dutt will be locked up for years? According to his lawyers, there is still hope that he will get bail from the Supreme Court in a matter of months or even weeks. In that case, he will be a free man even as he appeals against the TADA court verdict in the apex court. There is, however, the possibility of the SC refusing to accept his bail plea and appeal, in which case Sanjay Dutt will have to serve out his prison sentence.


Sanjay Dutt and Yusuf Nullwalla being taken to the Yerawada prison on Thursday

As for the impact of the actor's sentencing on the film industry, the pundits who have been ringing the alarm bells could have overstated their case. Says Komal Nahata of Film Information: "I think the media is going mad with the talk of a Rs 100-crore loss for the industry because of Sanjay's sentencing. It is hugely exaggerated." There are three films of Sanjay Dutt in the pipeline—Sanjay Gupta's Alibaug (Dutt's home production), Sanjay Gadhvi's Kidnap and Abbas-Mustan's Mr Fraud. Together the films would be worth Rs 60 crore, of which only Rs 20 crore has so far been invested. If the actor gets bail, these would be completed a little behind schedule.

The Munnabhai series will certainly suffer if he gets no relief from the SC. For now, the filming of Munnabhai Chale Amreeka has been postponed. Only if the apex court rejects his bail plea outright will the dark clouds appear on the horizon. As filmmaker Kunal Kohli puts it, "Financial losses can always be overcome, we are hoping he will get bail."

Yet there is no missing the fact that the mega star is today a common prisoner. Two days after the sentencing, he was moved from Mumbai's Arthur Road jail (where he wanted to be) to Pune's Yerawada prison where many other convicts of the Bombay blasts conspiracy are now housed. He perhaps wanted to be in Arthur Road because it was still Mumbai where his family and friends could easily visit and keep up his connect with the world outside. Interestingly, Abu Salem, the mafia don extradited from Portugal who provided Sanjay the AK-56 rifle and ammunition, is lodged in Arthur Road as an undertrial. Yerawada, on the other hand, is seen as the jail for the condemned.

So, Sanjay Dutt, movie icon, heir to the formidable legacy of actors-parliamentarians Sunil and Nargis Dutt, the do-gooder Sanju Baba to those close to him, bhaiyya to his two sisters Namrata and Congress MP Priya and till now accused number 117 in the serial blasts conspiracy, is now clearly a convict, a prisoner serving time. He must slip into the coarse white jail uniform, sleep without a fan, eat off an aluminum plate, stand in queue for dal-rice-roti-subzi of the jail variety. While actor Sanjay Dutt took home a few crores for a film, convict-prisoner Sanjay Dutt will get Rs 40 a day for carpentry or cooking or gardening. And yes, a monthly allowance of Rs 1,500 with prior approval of jail authorities to buy odds and ends like soaps and beedis from the in-house shop. His lawyers and family say he was "fully prepared" for any outcome on July 31 but Dutt himself told the judge he had not foreseen such a climax.


Public prosecutor Ujjwal Nikam

Sanjay Dutt may have perhaps hoped that the image of a much-loved, slightly bumbling fool with a golden heart would see him ride to freedom. The Robin Hood image that he has acquired is an extension of his Munnabhai screen persona, the good guy on the wrong path, the bhai who isn't really a goonda, the one who manages to land on the right side of the law. But Sanjay Dutt is not Munnabhai; he is a man who broke the law, got caught, and is paying for it like any one of us would.

In Dutt's case the distinction between right and wrong gets blurred because his life has unfolded like a matinee. Tragic yet interesting. His friends would like to script the typical happy end but the law has deemed otherwise. He may not want to dwell on the fact that Zaibunnisa Kazi, the 64-year-old woman in whose house the cache of rifles was stored for three hours before being transported to Dutt's bungalow, was convicted under TADA and faces ten years in prison. Relatively speaking, Dutt's six years does not look so bad.

Former actress Saira Bano, close friend of Sanjay's parents, who also worked for the 1993 riot victims, says she is pained beyond measure. "Sanju and his father went to areas like Behrampada (Muslim-dominated and under fire from Shiv Sainiks) amidst guns and swords, they carried the injured and took them to hospitals. We all got threats, lewd calls," she reminisces of that dark period of the city. "Sanju got calls threatening his sisters would be harmed. He was under pressure, he wanted to do something to safeguard the family." This is what Sanjay Dutt confessed to the police as his sole reason for acquiring and storing the rifle and ammunition.

But Dutt was not the only Mumbaikar facing threats. Many of those involved in relief work in Mumbai were threatened. Even prominent citizens like former chief secretary J.B. D'Souza and ad guru Alyque Padamsee were not spared. But they did not seek out the underworld and procure rifles for self-defence. "That was too filmy a reaction," remarks a lawyer who once represented Dutt. That the son of an MP could not get police protection speaks volumes of the extremely harrowing times Mumbai went through in those days but Dutt's response to the collapse of state machinery was over the top. Today he simply calls it a mistake.

While he tends to the flowers and shrubs in Yerawada prison, Sanjay Dutt would undoubtedly recall the day he sat in the Crime Branch office, telling the police he had made a mistake. A distraught Sunil Dutt was visibly upset and had yelled at his son. Of course, the father in him took over later. Dutt Senior didn't even mind bowing before Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray, his bitter political rival, to have his son released on bail.

As Sanjay Dutt begins another sojourn in jail, it is clear that he has lived a life with so many ups and downs that it would be difficult for any Bollywood writer to script it. And in his case, there'll be more sequels.
 



By Smruti Koppikar with Namrata Joshi

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