Remembering Sunil Dutt on his 88th birth anniversary.
Sunil Dutt (6 June 1930–25 May 2005), born Balraj Dutt, was a movie actor, producer, director, and politician. He was the Minister of Youth Affairs and Sports in the Manmohan Singh government (2004–2005). His son, Sanjay Dutt, is also an actor, while daughter Priya Dutt, a former Member of Parliament.
In 1968, he was honored with the Padma Shri by the Government of India. In 1984 he joined the Indian National Congress party and was elected to Parliament of India for five terms from the constituency of Mumbai North West.
Starting out in radio, Sunil Dutt was hugely popular on the Hindi Service of Radio Ceylon, the oldest radio station in South Asia. He moved to acting in Hindi films and got introduced to the industry with 1955’s Railway Platform.
He shot to stardom in the 1957 film Mother India where he co-starred with Nargis, whom he married on 11 March 1958. Dutt played a short-tempered, angry son of Nargis. During the making of this film a fire happened on the sets. It is believed that Dutt braved the raging fire to save Nargis and thereby won her love.
He had one son Sanjay Dutt, also a successful film actor and two daughters, Priya Dutt and Namrata Dutt. His daughter Namrata married Kumar Gaurav, son of Rajendra Kumar. The two fathers were co-stars in Mother India.
Dutt was one of the major stars of Hindi cinema in the late 1950s and 1960s and continued to star in many successful films which included Sadhna (1958), Sujata (1959), Mujhe Jeene Do (1963), Khandan (1965) and Padosan (1967). His collaboration with B.R. Chopra proved to be successful in films such as Gumraah (1963), Waqt (1965) and Hamraaz (1967). One of his favourite writers and friends was Aghajani Kashmeri. Dutt created a record of sorts by directing and starring in the unique film Yaadein (1964) in which he was the only actor. He later turned producer of the 1968 film Man Ka Meet which introduced his brother Som Dutt who was unsuccessful in films. In 1971 he produced, directed and starred in the big-budget period romantic film Reshma Aur Shera (1971) which was a huge failure at the box office. He continued to star in hits that included Heera (1973), Pran Jaye Par Vachan Na Jaye (1974), Nagin (1976) andJaani Dushman (1979). He also starred in a series of Punjabi religious movies in the 1970s: Man Jeete Jag Jeet (1973), Dukh Bhanjan Tera Naam (1974), and Sat Sri Akal (1977).
He launched his son Sanjay’s career with Rocky in 1981 which was a success. Shortly before the film’s release, Dutt’s wife died of pancreatic cancer. He founded the Nargis Dutt Foundation in her memory for the cure of cancer patients. He was a sponsor of the India Project, an organisation akin to Operation Smile for the treatment of Indian children with facial deformities.
In 1982 he was appointed as the Sheriff of Mumbai, an apolitical titular position bestowed on him by the Maharashtra government for a year.
He turned character actor in the 1980s often playing an elderly police officer or patriarch at the centre of family feuds. He retired from the film industry in the early 1990s to turn to politics after his last few releases including Yash Chopra’s Parampara (1992) and J.P.Dutta’s Kshatriya (1993). His political career was halted for some years in the early 1990s when he worked to free his son from jail after he was arrested for keeping an AK-56, a Pistol and hand grenades that he claimed was for the protection of his family after bomb blasts in Mumbai.
In 1995 he won the Filmfare Lifetime Achievement Award for his contribution to the film industry for four decades. He returned to films shortly before his death in 2003’s Munna Bhai M.B.B.S. He shared the screen with son Sanjay for the first time although they had appeared earlier in Rocky (1981) and Kshatriya (1993).