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Written by Anvita Singh | New Delhi | Updated: June 29, 2018 2:00:04 am Sanjay Dutt was at once menacing and vulnerable as the hardened criminal Raghu in Mahesh Manjrekars Vaastav

An innocent young man goes astray and falls into the oft-quoted trap of what we like to call “bad company.” It is a familiar premise for Indian cinema. Manoj Bajpayees Satya, Anil Kapoors Parinda, Kamal Haasans Nayakan, Amitabh Bachchans Agneepath, Rajinikanths Thalapathi are a few examples that instantly comes to mind. So what did Sanjay Dutts Vaastav bring to the table?

Dutt has over the years played a don, or just a man on the run from the law and other crooks, several times. And he has not always excelled at them. Take, for instance, the movies Naam, Hathyar, Khalnayak, Aatish, Daud and Kartoos. And this is the list of films that hit the big screen before the 1999 film Vaastav. Granted, the actor had given credible performances in Naam and Hathyar. And then there are movies like Khauff, Jung, Hum Kisise Kum Nahin, Munnabhai MBBS, Plan, Musafir, Luck and the remake of Agneepath in his filmography. In at least fifteen films, Dutt has played a gangster. But Vaastav is still widely regarded as one of his finest performances and the statement is not that much of a stretch, if you really think about it. After all, in how many ways can you play a gangster, especially if the narrative itself doesnt leave much scope for exploration?

With Sanjay Dutt biopic Sanju releasing on June 29, people will perhaps wonder (and have already wondered many times in all likelihood), what has Dutt done that an entire feature film should be made on him, apart from giving a few convincing performances on the big screen? Well, he has had experiences. He has the distinction of being born to Sunil Dutt and Nargis Dutt. He has been to the jail. He has been called a terrorist quite a few times and has apparently led a life that only the likes of you and I can imagine. A life which involved a considerable amount of hard drugs. And Dutt used a couple of those experiences to try and sincerely portray the role of a hardened criminal called Raghu in Mahesh Manjrekars Vaastav.

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Towards the conclusion of the film, one sees Dutt begging of his mother (played by Reema Lagoo) to release him from the endless and crippling want of drugs. At one point, he even says, “Bohot sara nasha karenga main,” (I will do a lot of drugs) whilst sniffling and asking his mother to take his life. The scene is pathetic. It invokes in the audience something akin to pity. You cannot help but feel for Raghu (Dutt). He is vulnerable. He is an addict. He feels remorse and wants to be shot dead by his mother. Now compare this to a diametrically opposite scene in the film where he bursts open a door of his brothers love interest in order to stop her from marrying someone she doesnt like. “Kya re uncle, kaisa hai tabiyat-paani?” Dutt aks the girls father, his tone ominous. Its a simple question which translates thus, “How are you doing, uncle? Is everything alright?” However, Dutts tone suggests danger. His eyes burning with quiet rage. The sequence is really something. Its perhaps what they call movie magic.

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From an innocent bystander to a drug-sniffing criminal à la Al Pacinos Scarface, and back to the poor, lost soul towards the very end of the film, Dutt wore his character like a second skin. The movie was average, but Dutt was not. And that does not happen often in showbiz.

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