Remembering Sunil Dutt: Mandoli Village’s Favourite ‘Papaji’
Sunil Dutt was popular not only as an actor but also for the person he really was. 
Sunil Dutt was popular not only as an actor but also for the person he really was. (Photo courtesy: Twitter)

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.

Das had met Sunil Dutt just a week ago, when he went to invite Papaji for a wedding in the family and Dutt had confirmed to attend the wedding and everybody in the village knew that if Dutt made a promise, he always kept his word.
Dutt won hearts with  the portrayal of his character Bhola in <i>Padosan</i>
Dutt won hearts with the portrayal of his character Bhola in Padosan

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.

Decades ago when his first film Ramesh Saigal’s Railway Platform was released, he invited the entire village to come to Mumbai and watch it and they traveled in big crowds by trucks to Lakshmi Theatre, Yamuna Nagar so that they could feel proud of their village boy now hero.
A rare picture of the Dutt family (Photo courtesy: &nbsp;Twitter)
A rare picture of the Dutt family (Photo courtesy:  Twitter)

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.

They had heard stories of how he built a memorial for his mother, their Daadi near river Yamuna, how he shot Daaku Aur Jawaan in his village Mandoli where the lead stars of the film Reena Roy and Vinod Khanna were put up in Dutt’s family house.

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.

Sunil Dutt’s last acting stint was with son Sanjay in <i>Munna Bhai MBBS</i> in 2003
Sunil Dutt’s last acting stint was with son Sanjay in Munna Bhai MBBS in 2003

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.

Sunil Dutt in a scene from <i>Sujata</i> with Nutan&nbsp;
Sunil Dutt in a scene from Sujata with Nutan 
(Photo courtesy: Twitter/@VintageMuVyz)
He had been calling up all his friends to invite them personally and now suddenly it is all over. So strange.
Sanjay Dutt

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.)

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