Film makers mined the lives of gangsters for material. For them, Sanjay’s stories from jail — he served 18 months — of how the underworld recruits shooters from the children’s barracks were gold. As late as 2000, seven years after Dutt had first been implicated in the Mumbai bombings, shortly after he had served time and had been let out on bail, he was back in touch with gangsters. The transcripts for a drunken exchange involving, among others, Dutt, Mahesh Manjrekar and Chhota Shakeel are available online. Dutt has little to say to the gangster beyond such banalities as Govinda being a “chutiya”. Shakeel probes listlessly, “Aur kya chal raha hai?” Sanjay responds, “Bas chal raha hai bhai.” Neither wants to hang up, both star struck in their own ways.
In a section in Maximum City, Mehta describes how Sanjay, close to Abu Salem, had managed to get a friend, director Vidhu Vinod Chopra, off the extortion hook with a single phone call. In his call to Salem, Dutt had allegedly said of Chopra, “This is the one man who stood by me when I was in jail. You can’t touch him.” In a text message to TEHELKA, Chopra, who is currently in London, said he was “not qualified” to comment on the man who saved him from Abu Salem. Mehta’s description of Dutt as “brontosaurus-sized” and overly fond of “guns and muscles” and the masculine image of the Marlboro Man appears to fit in snugly with the impression from that drunken phone call: of a troubled, immature movie star playing with dangerous toys for kicks.
Amateur psychoanalysts would keep turning to Nargis’ death, in the days after what should’ve been the high point of her son’s triumphant return home, drug-free and on the verge of bona fide movie stardom. When Dutt has been down, life has rarely refrained from kicking. In 1987, nearly six years after his mother’s death, he married Richa Sharma. “It was nice to come home to someone,” he told Garewal. Two months after the birth of their daughter Trishala, Sharma was diagnosed with a brain tumour. She died in 1996 and their daughter moved to the US to live with her grandparents. Dutt had already been found guilty by then of illegal possession of arms.
Three years previously, he had been shooting in Mauritius when he heard he was going to be indicted under TADA and the Arms Act. He had asked a friend, Yusuf Nulwalla, to remove his AK-56 from his house, and Yusuf together with another friend, the steel manufacturer Kersi Adajania, saw to it that the gun was melted and thrown into the sea at Nariman Point. The police recovered the spring and some cartridges from the rocks. In the end, it was Sunil Dutt who had the moral courage to turn his son over to the police. He tipped them off about Dutt’s return from Mauritius and on 19 April, he was met at the airport by 200 commandoes.
When he saw his father again, Sanjay was in police custody. Sunil Dutt must have felt his back pressed to a wall when he gave Sanjay up to the police, but he still hoped his son was innocent. Had he done what the police accused him of, he asked. His son’s answer must have bewildered his already aching heart. “I have Muslim blood in my veins,” Sanjay said, “I couldn’t bear what was happening in the city.” It was a dramatic and, frankly, strange declaration. Dutt belonged to a thoroughly mixed family and his religious identity was equally mixed.
After his conviction, he was seen with his forehead daubed with a giant red tilak, his Muslim identity now in abatement. Was this tactical, an attempt to distance him self in the public eye from a dark event? Or was it a tribute to the support of the Thackerays and the Shiv Sena? (Support that has now been reversed.) It might just have been neither. Having grown up around Zaheeda’s love for Sai Baba, Dutt spent four hours each day of the 18 months he spent in jail praying to God. Which god he prayed to and what kind of deliverance he asked for is unclear. Later, he spoke of time spent befriending the sparrows, ants and rats that would appear in his 8×8 cell. He was also angry, self-recriminating. In a fit of rage, he banged his head against the bars of his cell until he had to be removed from solitary confinement for fear that he would kill himself. He could not have slept easy knowing the fates of the other accused — Zaibunissa, Manzoor, Yusuf — all tried under TADA, unlike Dutt.