In 1993, Dutt was 33. He was too old, too buffeted by grief and experience to still be called ‘baba’.
The demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992, followed by the riots of 1993 had forced India to confront the question of its religious identity once again, and in horrifyingly brutal fashion. Did being Hindu mean causing harm to Muslims? Or did it mean extending support to those who needed help? Dutt’s father, as popular a social worker and MP as he was an actor, had decided in favour of the latter. Hindu-Muslim marriages were not too unusual, particularly within the Hindi film industry. At the time of the riots, Sunil Dutt, by then a widower for a dozen years, could be found helping violence affected families in the Muslim neighbourhood of Behrampur. He had the constant support of his youngest daughter, Priya. All three children were aware that their father was growing older, frailer. Priya spent more and more time taking care of him while he took care of others.
It wasn’t just Sunil Dutt’s health that was waning. He seemed to have lost the respect of his fellow politicians. In a particularly humiliating instance, Sharad Pawar made Dutt wait for him in a lobby for over three hours. Thugs, displeased with his pro-Muslim work, had begun to threaten the Dutt family. Following an attack on his person that January, Sunil Dutt asked for extra security detail to be posted outside his house. But Sanjay thought his father might not be able to do enough to protect the family. Threatening phone calls had been made; his sisters, he was warned, were targets for kidnap and rape. It was enough to make him want to buy another gun — a fourth, unlicensed automatic weapon to add to his three licensed firearms — one that, as Shanti Bhushan believes, would be “better suited to dealing with a mob”.
Despite the immense difference in the magnitude of their crimes, an uncannily similar instinct had spurred the two men at either end of this supply chain of weapons into action. Dawood Ibrahim too was goaded by the ostensible desire to protect his sisters. Hussain Zaidi, the crime reporter and author of Black Friday, described a package Dawood had received full of red and green bangles. The tinkling glass came with a note —“jo bhai apne behno ki hifaazat na kar sake, use yeh tofha mubarak”.
On 16 January 1993, Hanif Kandawala and Sameer Hingora, proprietors of Magnum Video and Dutt’s friends, arrived at his house with a man named Abu Salem and told Dutt they would bring him new weapons. The next day, the three men returned with another companion. From their car, which they had parked in Dutt’s tin shed, they produced three AK-56 rifles, magazines and about 250 rounds, with some hand grenades. Accounts of this meeting differ among the men who were present. Hingora alleges that when they reached Dutt’s house, the actor was on the phone with Dawood’s brother, Anees. He further claims that Dutt enquired about the arms concealed in the car, showing knowledge of the plot to smuggle weapons into Bombay. Dutt’s lawyers have denied both these counts. However, TEHELKA’s earlier investigation unearthed that Dutt had in fact admitted to calling Anees, a confession that the CBI inexplicably decreed irrelevant, erasing the MTNL call records from Dutt’s landline to a number in Dubai.
From the safe harbour of the present, however, it’s easy to forget just how plagued Bombay was in the 1990s by gang violence, kidnapping and extortion. Film journalist Rauf Ahmed describes the atmosphere that had gripped the city as a “fear psychosis”. “You’d wake up and hear that Gulshan Kumar, whom one met at all the parties, had suddenly been shot dead outside his office. Manisha Koirala’s brother was killed. Hrithik Roshan’s father was shot at. It was all to show the royalty of Bombay who really was the boss.” That said, it couldn’t be denied that the film industry and the underworld were dancing a particularly intricate pas de deux.