Sunil Dutt: The Man Stardom Never Dared to Change
A tribute to Sunil Dutt on his death anniversary through anecdotes shared by his journalist friend Rauf Ahmed.
Sunil Dutt – one of Indian cinema’s greatest actors – is most fondly remembered in the film industry for giving and helping those in need. Dutt considered senior journalist Rauf Ahmed a close friend. On the actor’s birth anniversary, Ahmed remembers him as a man that stardom wouldn’t dare to change.
According to Ahmed, Dutt was a man who lived by his mother’s wise words all through his life. “Leave your past behind. If you keep wallowing in the ravages of Partition and how it affected us, you will only intensify the hatred inside you. There is a new day and a new life ahead. Keep looking forward”, is what Dutt’s mother used to tell him, remembers Ahmed.
Soon after, Dutt dropped his old name for what happened to work better with the trends back in the day- Balraj became Sunil Dutt. He started out as a supervisor with Mumbai’s BEST Transport division at a bus depot in Dadar and also enrolled himself in Mumbai’s Jai Hind College. Here he was spotted on stage and signed on by the ad agency DJ Keymer to present a star-oriented show on Radio Ceylon called Lipton Ke Sitare.
Rauf Ahmed recalls that it was while covering the Dilip Kumar starrer Shikast (1953), Dutt met director Ramesh Saigal who was instantly impressed by his voice and bearing and offered him a role in his next film. Dutt wanted to play the lead role and was ready to audition and Saigal screen-tested him in Dilip Kumar’s clothes, which happened to be at hand.
Ahmed remembers Dutt narrating the whole incident,“The jacket sleeve reached only his wrist and the trousers were ankle length. He felt so awkward in them that he never thought Saigal would call him back, but he did.”
There was no looking back after his first film Railway Platform (1955), but Dutt shot to stardom only with Mother India (1957) playing the on-screen son to his future wife, Nargis. A series of successful films like Sadhana (1958), Gumraah (1963), Sujatha (1959) and Yeh Raaste Hai Pyaar Ke (1963) made Dutt a sought-after star. His last performance was in Rajkumar Hirani’s Munnabhai MBBS (2003).
We all know the filmy story of Dutt jumping into a fire on the sets of Mother India to save Nargis Dutt. They fell in love as she nursed him back to health. Ahmed recalls their bond to be one of deep understanding and love. But few know that Dutt was the softer voice of the two.
Nargis was rather assertive and bold and she never approved of the wannabe chamchas that followed her husband around like parasites. But he wanted to help them out in any way that he could.
Dutt’s desire to help others was intense and he wanted to use his political power constructively. Ahmed, who watched him at close quarters, understood that he was not cut out for politicking but liked being the helping hand.
According to Rauf Ahmed, Dutt found his soulmate in his politician daughter Priya Dutt, who not only accompanied him extensively during campaigning but also stayed by his side through everything till the very end.
Dutt always made time for his family. His wife and kids were his first priority. Whether it was Nargis’s battle with pancreatic cancer or his son Sanjay Dutt’s days spent in drug rehab, his father stood beside them like a rock.
He believed in moving forward and carried no baggage of the things that didn’t work out in life, remembers Ahmed fondly. Dutt saab, you are deeply missed.
(This article is from The Quint’s archives and was first published on 6 June 2016. It is being republished to mark Sunil Dutt’s birth anniversary.)
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