On 16 January 1993, Ibrahim drove a car filled with explosives and assault rifles from Gujarat to Bombay. This car made its way to Dutt’s tin-roofed garage, where accompanied by Dutt’s friends Samir Hingora and Hanif Kandawala, a man named Abu Salem handed the actor three AK-56s, ammunition and 20 grenades, altering the trajectory of his life for ever.
This life, by the accounts of many of those closest to Dutt, was already a troubled one. His parents, actors of almost celestial fame, had met while shooting for the iconic Mother India. Nargis had fallen in love with Sunil when he rescued her from a fire that had broken out on set. In Darlingji: The True Love Story of Nargis and Sunil Dutt, a collection of letters exchanged between the two, accompanied by entries from Nargis’ diary, she confesses that her disappointing romance with Raj Kapoor had left her contemplating suicide until she met Sunil. Finally, she had found someone who made her “feel normal”. Nargis, famous for her ethereal beauty as much as her temper and razor-edged tongue, said she confessed everything about her past “shamelessly” to him because she was certain that he would never abandon her.
She was right — Sunil never abandoned her, even as she drew her last breath at the Sloan-Kettering Hospital’s cancer ward in New York several years later. He did, however, like Kapoor, demand that she not work with other male actors. If Nargis resented this, she buried those feelings once Sanjay, the eldest of their three children, was born, spending all her time pampering her son. Indeed, so much did Nargis spoil him that by the time he turned 10, Zaheeda, Nargis’ niece, says Sunil began to worry “that his son was turning into a sissy”. “We would see him in the garden, having placed Sanju on a tall branch, telling him to leap off it — ‘Mamu kya kar rahe ho? Bachcha gir jayega,’ we would scream to no avail.”
Meanwhile, Sanju baba, who had taken to smoking the ends of cigarettes his father’s friends threw around, had also begun to show signs of the generosity everyone attributes to him even now. Being driven past a group of poor boys, Dutt would start wailing, until the driver stopped and bought the boys the same beverage he was drinking. In an interview before his death, Sunil recalled how Sanjay once threw a tantrum at a wedding, insisting that his mother give away his jacket to a young beggar shivering outside the shamiana. Finally, the senior Dutt decided, as irate parents often do, that his soft-hearted son should be sent away to a boarding school where he could be toughened into a man.
One of the reasons his supporters cite while asking for pardon for Sanjay Dutt is that while the law should not privilege a celebrity, neither should it punish a person for being one. In April 1993, a report found that several MLAs and politicians were also guilty of possessing arms supplied by Dawood Ibrahim. One of these was the Shiv Sena MLA Madhukar Sarpotdar. Sharad Pawar, chief minister then as he is now, revealed that suspects interrogated for the Bombay blasts had coughed up several names but that “charges hadn’t been pressed against everyone involved”. The book When Bombay Burned reveals that two months before the blasts shook the city, as riots broke out in Nirmal Nagar on the night of 11 January, Sarpotdar was detained by the Army and found to have two revolvers and several other weapons in his car. Although Sarpotdar’s gun was licensed, his son’s was not; besides, they were both breaking the law by carrying weapons in a ‘notified area’ during a riot. A man named Anil Parab also accompanied Sarpotdar that night. Parab turned out to be Dawood’s main hitman. Yet, Sarpotdar, who had committed the same crime as Dutt, was never tried in a court of law.
In an email to this reporter, Suketu Mehta, the author of Maximum City and the last journalist to have written about Dutt’s childhood, excused himself from providing details about his interview with Dutt. Mehta, who currently resides in New York, suggested that a mutual friend had been angered by his depiction of Dutt in the book and it would be uncharitable to exacerbate the situation further, especially at a sensitive moment. This polite stonewalling echoes the reactions of Dutt’s immediate circle. Unsurprisingly, his sisters, his closest colleagues and friends have refused to speak to the press, some on the advice of Dutt’s lawyer Satish Manshinde, and others at their own discretion. An investigative report published in TEHELKA in March 2007 (How the Star Managed to Escape TADA), had captured Manshinde on a hidden camera, admitting that he didn’t “have an answer” should the Supreme Court ask him why his client did not deserve to be convicted under TADA.