“Trends of acting in Indian cinema have improved from theatricals to mature, real life performances. If the audience cannot identify with a piece of acting, it fails to impress. “These were words of Sunil Dutt during an interview with me in 1989, at his Ajanta Arts office in Bandra, Mumbai.
Through the days I developed a good emotional and professional rapport with him. The actor, director, producer was truly a down to earth human being. He did not believe in gimmicks and never required security cover for his movements. Sunil Dutt also told me, “Ranjan, I do not believe in stardom. It restricts my acting abilities. As you will see I attempted a variety of characters in Mujhe Jeene Do, Mera Saya and Padoson. Even Nargis warned me not to attempt Padosan. I did not listen to anyone and dared to experiment.” Sunil Dutt excelled in Padosan though he was in front of actors like Kishore Kumar and Mehmood.
At a shooting of his last directorial venture, Yeh Aag Kab Bujhegi, I was there to cover it at Sadhana’s bungalow in Santacruz (West). At lunch break I was standing at a corner. After seeing, Duttsaab personally invited me to have food and served himself. I saw in person Sunil Dutt the director score over him as the actor. Each shot taken was disciplined, every performer given equal footage. I had enjoyed the company of Duttsaab’s secretary Sarwar Hussain (Nargis’ brother) and production controller Moti Singh.
Initially Dimple Kapadia was thought of performing as the female protagonist in Yeh Aag Kab Bujhegi. Her picture in a lawyer’s robe was also in the advertisements. Later, according to the script’s demand, Sunil Dutt, the director opted for Rekha as he required a more seasoned actress. Dimple was upset and said to many, “Tell that Duttsaab he has done injustice to me.” Shashi Kapoor consoled her saying, “Itni Zehar Tere Mein Mein Kyun Hai? Duttsaab did what he thought best for his film.”
When I asked Sunil Dutt, why he dropped Dimple Kapadia from his film? He had his legendary lazy smile and answered, “I had to go by my script. Dimple is a good actress but not fit for the character of my film.” Sunil Dutt was a person who would even opt out himself if he was a misfit for a role.
Duttsaab always remembered his struggling days. He told once told me, “After graduation I lived in a chawl. I did programmes for Radio Ceylon. Ramesh Saigal gave me my coveted break in Railway Platform in 1956 and christened me Sunil Dutt though my original name is Balraj Dutt. Then Mehboob Khan, BR Chopra, Bimal Ray, RK Mayyar and Raj Khosla brought the best out of me.”
A thorough gentleman Sunil Dutt vibed well with his heroines, including Meena Kumari, Nutan, Waheeda Rehman, and Sadhana.
Tall, manly and well built, Sunil Dutt was not traditionally handsome like Dev Anand or rhythmic like Shammi Kapoor. So I once asked him, “How did you lip the song O My Baby Doll in Ek Phool Char Kante so well? You are not a trained dancer”. He laughed out his heart and said, “I obeyed my choreographer to the hilt and concentrated on rhythm as well as body language.”
The legendary actor was very sentimental about his two films, Sujata and Yaadein. He recollected with joy,”Nabenduda’s (Ghosh) script of Sujata gave equal space to Nutan, Shashikala and me. Bimalda (Ray) worked well on me so I could deliver a sincere and honest performance. The film was a sure hit and the Bengali community lovingly termed me Duttababu.” Sunil Dutt’s underplaying in Sujata won him laurels.
In his first directorial venture, Yaadein, Sunil Dutt almost made an art film. It was a trendsetter in the way that he was the only character in the film. After a big sign Sunil Dutt said, “I put everything I could, my entire soul, mind and body in Yaadein. Each frame was conceived with a vision of life. Sadly it flopped badly. The same was with Reshma Aur Shera my second directorial venture. Tell me how much it hurts a creator when his creation goes unappreciated and suffers financial losses?” he questioned.
Yaadein was a classic in cinematic format while Reshma Aur Shera Sheer poetry on celluloid. I did ask Duttsaab his opinion about Nargis criticizing Satyajit Ray for selling poverty through his films. After minutes of silence, Sunil Dutt answered, “It was not correct. That is why I avoid unnecessarily commenting on other’s works. It was not in good taste.”
Sunil Dutt also said, “My best expression was in real life, when I saved Nargis from sure death during a fire while shooting for Mother India. I still have goose bumps remembering the moment.”