Undoubtedly one of India's most talented and controversial actors, Sanjay Dutt is best known as Bollywood's biggest bad boy. Making his debut in 1981 with Rocky, Dutt has gone on to make over 100 Bollywood films during his 24-year career, excelling in everything from romantic comedies, thrillers and more recently action-packed gangster flicks. Despite the best part of his career being marred by drug addiction and a jail term in connection with the 1993 Bombay bomb blasts, Sanjay has managed to retain a firm fan following, as well as his A-list credentials. His latest film, Parineeta, sees Sanjay lose his macho image for a gentler role in a classy period drama.
In recent years we've seen you in a number of comedies, thrillers and gangster films. So what attracted you to a love story like Parineeta?
As an actor, I am meant to dabble with different themes and genres. I keep the bad boy image just to make my fans happy. At 45, you can't expect me to play a college kind running around trees with his girlfriend! I am happy I did Parineeta because it will showcase my mettle as a serious and intense actor. It is a commercial, well-shot, and emotionally effective romance with songs and dances, aimed at a family audience. Moreover, I can never say no to Vidhu (Vinod Chopra), the writer and producer of the film. He's like a brother to me. Plus I knew working with director Pradeep Sarkar would be a memorable experience.
Tell us about your role in Parineeta.
I play Girish, an affluent yet softly-spoken, intense and mature guy who comes to India from London on work. On my arrival, I come in contact with a typical Indian beauty, Lolita (Vidya Balan), that puts her apparent love for her childhood friend, Shekhar (Saif Ali Khan) to the test. It is the delicacy, softness, and depth of my character that drew me to Parineeta.
Although Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay's original novel of Parineeta is set in 1914 Calcutta, this film adaptation is placed in the 60s. Has this affected the overall feel of the film?
Let's not forget that we're making a commercial Hindi film catering to all types of audiences. So while we've tried to give Kolkata a classy and rich, antiquated feel, the film is pretty contemporary in its treatment and texture.
Did you read Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay's original novel in preparation for Parineeta?
No, I haven't read the original novel.
But wouldn't reading the novel have given you a better insight into your character?
I don't know, I don't think so. That's not the way I work. A good script and a good brief from the director is enough to let me know what is expected of me.
Most Bollywood films are shot in Mumbai, but Parineeta was filmed extensively in Kolkota (Calcutta). How was that experience?
Kolkata is a great city, has great food and great people. We had some problems finding the kind of old buildings that we were looking for, and even handling the crowds, but on the whole it was fun shooting there. That is the relatively unexplored part of India as far as Hindi films are concerned.
Do you feel audiences will appreciate a subtle, literary love-story like Parineeta at a time when Bollywood films full of action and bare flesh seem to be in demand?
I disagree. Every kind of movie has its own place. Parineeta is a beautifully crafted film for the family audience, and such films always have a definite audience.
Parineeta is your third collaboration with writer/producer/director Vidhu Vinod Chopra after Mission Kashmir and Munnabhai MBBS. What do you like about working with him?
Vidhu is an exceptional filmmaker, and above all, a great friend. I respect the fact that he works on instinct and with unconventional subjects instead of going down the typical formulaic route. In fact, I am doing his next two productions - Munnabhai Meets Mahatma Gandhi (the sequel to Munnabhai MBBS) being directed by Raj Kumar Hirani, and Yagna, which Vidhu is directing himself.
You've had a pretty eventful, and some would say controversial, life to date. How have you changed over the years?
As a person, I'm pretty much the same except that I've come to terms with who my real friends and supporters are. I don't get particularly friendly with new people at first go. Call that a strength or a failing, whatever.
How have you changed as an actor?
As an actor, I've grown considerably. For example, it's taken me years to get comfortable doing a romantic scene and dancing on stage in front of a live audience. I do it a lot better than I ever did. I've really opened up a lot. And I'm glad I have because I'm being appreciated for it. It's because of these changes in me that I'm getting some really good work. And because I'm delivering what they want, more good work is coming my way.