Outlook recently had a fandom survey to establish Bollywood’s biggest giants. Of six father-son pairs, Sanjay Dutt was the only son perceived to have outshone his father. It is still Vinod Khanna over Akshaye, Sanjay Khan over Zayed, Feroz over Fardeen. In spite of the fact that I ‘get’ Sanjay Dutt now, I thought that was unfair. Expected, but unfair.
Sunil Dutt has been, I think, the most underrated actor of his generation. With the media liking their stars in neat trinities, the slightly off-beat actor never stood a chance. Still, a look at his filmography brings up some really good work – not just the celebrated Mother India, but the hunted daaku in Mujhe Jeene Do, the cuckolded army officer in Ye Raaste Hain Pyar Ke, rent by feudal rivalry in Reshma aur Shera... then there was Sujatha, the very funny Padosan and the romantic Mera Saaya. They did make movies outside the formula, then.
I remember sitting up late to catch Yaadein on Doordarshan and thinking the one-actor experiment a bit extreme, but that it wouldn’t have been a half bad film with a full cast. Wellesian angles, and an intriguing concept: man comes home to find his wife has left him; post-mortems the marriage. I’d like to see it again. Just to see how it grabs me now.
Mera Saaya. Dutt plays Thakur Rakesh Singh, much in love with his wife. He reluctantly leaves her to study abroad, but is suddenly summoned home with news of her illness. He arrives ventre à terre, only to have her die in his arms. As the film flits in and out of flashbacks, Sunil Dutt’s portrayal of grief in the film is easily the best I’ve seen in Hindi cinema. Aapke pehlu mein aakar rodiye… Madan Mohan weaves his magic, the curtains at Udaipur’s palace flutter, Dutt walks about, utterly desolate. We all wept.
Great actor. An honest, human man. RIP.