Remembering Sunil Dutt: Mandoli Village’s Favourite ‘Papaji’
On May 25 2005 Sunil Dutt passed away in his sleep at his home. They say time heals all wounds but some scars never fade. Even after so many years, the actor-cum-parliamentarian is missed by his well wishers. June 6 is Sunil Dutt’s birth anniversary and among those who look forward to this special date are his followers of Mandoli village in Punjab. For the people in this village, Sunil Dutt was the superman who lived up to all his promises. He was the son, the brother, who in time to come, became everybody’s favourite Papaji.
A pall of gloom falls over the village even today, when they recall his demise more than a decade ago. Banarsi Das, a clerk in a theatre at Yamuna Nagar, was assigned to break the news to the seniors in the village. Das received a call from Sunil Dutt’s office and immediately rushed to Mumbai. It was all too sudden to believe it.
Ever since Balraj (Sunil) Dutt migrated from Pakistan with his mother Kulwanti in 1948 and settled down in Mandoli, he would always return to his roots for all the important moments of his life.
For a long time after that Sunil Dutt continued with the tradition of hosting a screening of all his new releases for his villagers and more important, was happy to interact with them and receive honest feedback post the screening.
Those who knew Sunil Dutt intimately said he had a special knack of befriending people and sustaining relationships for a lifetime. His children knew of his friends from Khurd village in Pakistan because Sunil Dutt spoke about all his interactions to his family over meals at the dining table.
The villagers on the surface never imposed on his privacy but they were curious and so hid behind tall bushes in the night to watch over the stars at home and while shooting.
Sanjay Dutt and his sisters had heard all these stories in their growing up years and met up many of the villagers when they come to visit Sunil Dutt at their Pali Hill residence and the doors of Sunil Dutt’s bungalow were always open for the villagers of Mandoli. After his demise, his village wanted to build a monument in his memory but daughter Priya Dutt dissuaded them, said dad would prefer to live in their hearts. It is true. Sunil Dutt lived in the heart of his loved ones and this was apparent when the film fraternity was present in full force to bid farewell to their hero.
I remember attending the prayer meeting held at his residence in Pali Hill. Sanjay Dutt surrounded by his well wishers, looked confused, said dad was to shift into their home a few days later and was looking forward to the house warming party.
When I hugged Priya Dutt, she had tears streaming down her face and said,
You know Maa appeared in my dream last night. She always sat outside on the parapet of our bungalow every evening, it was her favourite place to wait for dad when he was expected home from shooting. Strange, that I should dream of her in that spot last night as if she was waiting to take him home.Priya Dutt
(Bhawana Somaaya has been writing on cinema for over 30 years and is the author of 12 books. Twitter- @bhawanasomaaya)
(This article is from The Quint’s archives and was first published on 6 June 2016.)