Bollywood star Sanjay Dutt (the Munna Bhai franchise, “Vaastav,” “Khal Nayak”) is launching production company Three Dimension Motion Pictures with a view to bringing back the golden age of heroism to the industry.
Dutt cites the recent pan-Indian box office success of South Indian film “Pushpa” and the films of “Baahubali” filmmaker S.S. Rajamouli as examples of the vanished larger-than-life heroism in Bollywood.
“We’re trying to get back what we had, what the South Indian films are doing now,” Dutt tells Variety. “When we entered the film industry, we started off with the heroism, the heroic roles, the mass love and everything, and I just saw that stopping. And I am trying to revive that.”
Dutt, 62, the son of respected actors turned politicians Sunil and Nargis Dutt, debuted with “Rocky” (1981), in an era where leading men of mainstream Indian cinema were written as a complete heroic package. In the Bollywood of today that genre is reduced to a niche, or a “little gap” as Dutt describes it.
“What Denzel Washington and Kevin Costner and Mel Gibson are doing in Hollywood – I think that little gap is missing here. I’m trying to get that gap back, of a hero of that age, who can perform and who can fight and who can stand for his rights,” says Dutt.
“The golden age – it just can’t die. Even if you look at Hollywood, it exists there, and in the South. I don’t know what happened to Bollywood. But that’s what we’re trying to get back – those days of heroism,” Dutt adds.
Three Dimension is prepping a slate which includes horror-comedy “The Virgin Tree,” to be directed by Sidhaant Sachdev, who has TV, music video and assisting experience and will make his feature debut, with a cast of four newcomers. Principal photography begins in May.
The rest of the slate is not titled yet, but includes a family drama, some action films with younger actors and some more action films with a mature man as hero.
“I will be starring in not all of them, but some of them,” says Dutt. “I would like to relax as the producer, after 40 years of being in the industry – be on the sets on the other side of it. That will be an experience for me, I’ve never been in that chair before. I’m looking forward to that.”
While the Three Dimension slate also includes series for streaming platforms, the films are all meant for theatrical release. “I believe in the big screen – I know it can never die down,” says Dutt. “I know that OTT [streaming] is an important part of filmmaking today. But I know eventually theaters will open up and there will be some films only made for theaters.”
Dutt squarely blames the vanished Bollywood heroism on the suits. “I feel that this whole corporate structure coming and encroaching our space in Bollywood ruined everything. Because, those guys sitting on the table and who are giving the money, have got no right to interfere with the director for his creation, or with the actors or give their thought to content or a script, when [they] don’t have any idea about it, when it’s not their business,” says Dutt.
“Their business is funding and that’s where the business ends. But once you start interfering in the script and in the direction and in the budgets and this and that, then things go haywire, and that’s why I think we lost out on a lot of good stuff during that time,” Dutt adds. “Whereas in the South this corporate structure does not exist. There are people who, from the production or from the producer, to the director, to everybody involved in the team… they’re passionate about making good films and that is the thing which has worked for them. And that has gone against us because that passion of making movies or that passion of making something great and working and performing is gone. Which I think will come back. At least in my company, it will come back.”
As an actor, Dutt has several films delayed because of COVID-19 due for release including historical “Prithviraj” alongside Akshay Kumar, period action drama “Shamshera” with Ranbir Kapoor and crime drama “KGF: Chapter 2,” the sequel to the 2018 Kannada-language film that became a pan-India blockbuster.
Dutt’s own life has been colorful enough to adapt as a Bollywood film, and it has. A popular actor from the 1980s to the present day, Dutt also went through a period of drug abuse, endured multiple bereavements and overcame cancer. From 1993 to 2016, Dutt was in and out of prison on charges of possessing weapons during the 1993 Bombay bombings.
“I served time in prison and I faced it and I came out. And I was welcomed back by my film industry, and that’s absolutely family for me, and it’s always great the way they supported me and they support me always,” says Dutt. “And then it was this phase of cancer, which I’m out of. And I’m doing great.”
While the actor had a string of hits behind him, Rajkumar Hirani’s “Munna Bhai M.B.B.S.” (2003) and its sequel “Lage Raho Munna Bhai” (2006), produced by Vidhu Vinod Chopra, endeared Dutt to a whole new generation of fans. Dutt plays genial hoodlum Munna Bhai, who inadvertently ends up being a do-gooder and Arshad Warsi plays his loyal sidekick Circuit. The films were enormously successful and fans have been clamoring for a third film.
Dutt says that he has asked Hirani and Chopra about the third part several times and has suggested that since he and Warsi are now older, the script reflect that. “They are in the thinking process and God willing it’ll happen,” says Dutt.
Hirani directed 2018 biopic “Sanju” with Ranbir Kapoor playing Dutt.
“It was an amazing and a very emotional journey for me to watch the film, and I love the way Raju portrayed all the characters in the film, and he wrote it so well, but, there’s so much to be said yet,” says Dutt. “You can’t say it in two hours and 30 minutes. And there’s so many chapters of my life, which can teach the younger generation or inspire them – it can be both. And I wish somebody can make a huge series on it. I’m not saying great life journey – I don’t want anybody to go through what I’ve gone through. But it’s definitely a learning process for the younger generation to hear that story.”
So would Three Dimension be the logical home for a streaming series on Dutt’s life? “You’ve put that seed in my head, I’m going to be thinking about it now,” says Dutt.