How Bollywood star Sanjay Dutt spent his time in jail

By Puja Changoiwala

image copyrightAFP
image captionSanjay Dutt was moved to Yerwada jail in May 2013 to finish his five-year jail term

When actor Sanjay Dutt left a prison in the western Indian city of Pune on Thursday, he walked away with some experience of making paper bags and being a radio disc jockey.

Dutt was sentenced for firearms offences linked to the 1993 Mumbai blasts which killed 257 people and injured 713.

He was convicted of buying firearms from the bombers but said the weapons were necessary in order to defend his family during the Hindu-Muslim rioting of 1993.

The actor was moved to the Yerwada jail in May 2013 to finish his five-year jail term.

But owing to his good behaviour and positive activities like running a radio programme, he was recently granted a remission of 144 days.

Intense interest

His early release, however, has sparked outrage with critics saying that Dutt had already been granted an unreasonable number of parole and furlough leaves owing to his celebrity status.

Meanwhile, there is intense interest in the media about his life inside the jail.

Dutt lived in a 8x10ft (2.4m x 3m) cell and wore the white uniform of prisoners. He had a 100 sq ft garden in front of his cell, where he was allowed to stroll under the watchful eyes of four guards.

According to a former fellow inmate, the actor had been resigned to his fate of the unavoidable jail time, but knew he could be released early if he behaved well.

image copyrightAFP
image captionThe actor's wife Manyata and his children eagerly awaited his release
image copyrightAFP
image captionSanjay Dutt campaigned for the Samajwadi party in the 2009 general elections

He was lodged in a high-security cell next to the "faansi" ward, which houses prisoners on death row, and was generally not allowed to interact with other prisoners owing to security concerns.

If he walked to the common area, he would be accompanied by four policemen. If he interacted with other prisoners, the conversations would be listened into.

"I would speak to him often as I was working as the librarian at the prison," said the former inmate.

"Baba, as he is affectionately known, would borrow at least two books every week. He used to read extensively, mainly Hindi literature from Munshi Premchand."

Spiritual reading

The former inmate added that the actor would "remain immersed in newspapers".

"He had little else to do. In the common area, we had one TV set for every 150 prisoners. But since Baba's cell was a high-security one, he did not have that luxury," he added.

Hitesh Jain, Dutt's lawyer, said that the actor also developed a "spiritual inclination" during his time in the prison.

"He was doing a lot of spiritual reading. These are the things which keep a person encouraged, and provide strength to pass the whole term," said Jain.

Speaking about his daily schedule, officers at the Yerwada prison said that Dutt would wake up at six in the morning. He would take a shower after which he would be served tea and breakfast.

The jail staff would then bring him material to make bags from newspapers. He would spend most of his mornings working, earning 45 rupees (47p; 66 cents) for 100 bags. A little before noon, he would be taken to the radio studio where he would present a programme on 'Radio YCP' (Yerwada Central Prison), the jail's internal radio station.

image copyrightAFP
image captionThe 1993 Mumbai blasts killed 257 people and injured 713
image copyrightAFP
image captionDutt is hugely popular for his role as a lovable gangster in the Munnabhai movies

Soon after, policemen would escort him to the common area where he was allowed to interact with other prisoners and exercise with them.

He would then return to his cell at around 14:00, have lunch and remain there for an hour before again hosting his programme on the radio station.

Dinner would be served by 17:30 and the actor would stay locked in his cell from 18:00 until the next morning.

'One of us'

His radio programme was popular among the inmates.

"He would write his own scripts, and would usually speak about reforms during his radio sessions," a jail officer said.

"He would speak about prison life, how the prisoners could survive it, and how their rehabilitative processes should be once they leave prison."

The officer added that the actor would often repeat his dialogues from popular Munnabhai films and play songs to entertain his listeners.

The actor definitely made some fans with his radio skills.

"Baba might be a big deal outside those prison walls, but inside, he was one of us. He even met my wife and mother during one of their prison visits," the former fellow inmate said.

"My family was elated on meeting him, but to me, and to all of us prisoners, he was ordinary. Prison does that to you. The barracks snatch your worth and render you ordinary, irritatingly ordinary, even if you are a superstar."

Puja Changoiwala is a Mumbai-based independent journalist. Her book on crimes in Mumbai will be published later this year

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