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Art is not a luxury, but a necessity.

Oh Vishwashanti Ke Dhoot, Kaha Hai Aap? Aapki Aaj Bahot Zaroorat Hai

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Ali Peter John

If you ask me what I treasure the most, it is my gift of observation, my memory and my memories and I must be having millions of memories of all times. And the other treasure I have is the friends I have made in the highest places, men and women who I had once only heard of or seen in my dreams. Sunil Dutt was one of them.I knew that he was an actor in Hindi Films….

ali-peter-john-5

But, the first time he became a real hero in my young life was when I heard the story of an actor called Sunil Dutt who had jumped into a blazing fire to save the heroine, Nargis who was caught in the fire. He had put his life and his newly started career at stake to save her and the two became close friends and finally fell in love and Nargis who had done more than fifteen films only with Raj Kapoor and who had left Raj Kapoor and R.K Films to play the coveted role in Mehboob Khan’s“Mother India”. Nargis never went back to R.K Films and even gave up her career to marry Sunil Dutt who was junior in age and they had three children, Sanjay, Namrata and Priya…..

Sunil dutt_with Family

It was years later that I met a man called Chimankant Gandhi who was an associate of Mehboob Khan who was responsible to find the two sons of Nargis in“Mother India”, Rajendra Kumar and Sunil Dutt, both of whom were rank strugglers. Sunil Dutt had started his career as an announcer with Radio Ceylon and used to sleep outside a haircutting saloon in Central Bombay. Rajendra Kumar was a refugee who had crossed over after surviving death several times. They grew into the best of friends and were two of the biggest stars and their friendship ended in a relationship when Rajendra Kumar’s son, Kumar Gaurav married Sunil Dutt’s daughter, Namrata. They were friends till the very end and did their last film together called“Phool”with Kumar Gaurav and Madhuri Dixit in the romantic lead…..

Sunil Dutt_Rajendra Kumar

Sunil Dutt had gone way ahead and had not only made it as a star, but had also started his own production house, Ajanta Arts under which he produced several memorable films like“Reshma Aur Shera”(with Amitabh Bachchan,a struggler as a dumb and deaf young man),“Yaadien”(the only one man film),“Mann Ka Meet”made to introduce three newcomers, Vinod Khanna, Ranjeet and Leena Chandavarkar and his own younger brother, Som Dutt. He made“Rocky”to introduce his son, Sanjay Dutt.

Rocky Poster

He together with Nargis started the Ajanta Arts Troupe which travelled to the borders and frontiers soon after the Indo-China war of 1962. It was an idea which was highly appreciated by the then Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and later by Prime Minister Mrs Indira Gandhi who became a very good friend of the couple.

Sunil Dutt_Nargis Dutt

They were involved in a number of social welfare activities, but they had to face their biggest crises when films like“Reshma Aur Shera”and“Yaadein”flopped miserably and they had to mortgage their bungalow on Pali Hill. Dutt was known as a tiger who never accepted defeat easily and he struck back with a film called“Heera”in which he played a dacoit and then there was a flood of offers to play similar roles and he had to do them because he needed money to fund all his welfare activities. It was a time when he was also offered the best of roles in Hindi films made in the South by leading banners and made a name and also made a lot of money…..

sunil dutt

Life went on smoothly for the Dutts till Nargis was diagnosed with cancer and Dutt gave up his career to spend several months with his wife at the Sloan Kettering Cancer Hospital in America, but all his efforts failed and Nargis decided to return home to spend the last days of her life with her children. But before leaving the hospital, she asked Dutt to start some kind of a foundation to help victims of cancer who couldn’t afford the treatment. Nargis died on May 3,1981 and life was never the same for the family.

In the face of odds, Dutt started the Nargis Dutt Foundation to help the victims of cancer. He held dinners in America and other places which raised crores of rupees and the money was used for every cancer hospital in India and also for the Begam Khannum Hospital in Karachi built by the present Prime Minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan in honour of his mother who had also died of cancer. The amount raised by the Foundation was staggering and continues its good work under the leadership of Priya Dutt who was a MP.

sunil_priya

Dutt was in for another shock when he realised that his son had fallen a hopeless victim to drugs and had reached a stage when he used to bleed from his mouth and nose and even used to go violent. He had to rush his son to a rehab in America and was with him till he was entirely out of his addiction.

But the son was to get his father into greater trouble when he got involved with the underworld of Mumbai and was charged and arrested under the Arms Act and thrown into one prison after another. Dutt who was now a leading MP of the Congress Party literally moved stones and storms to save his son and when nothing seemed to work, he even took the advice of his old friend and in-law Rajendra Kumar and met his arch political rival, Bal Thackeray for help and surprisingly Thackeray who was a fan of both Sunil Dutt and Nargis agreed to help and Sanjay Dutt was out of prison in just two days. It goes to show how far the father could go to save his son when one could see how he could kill his conscience and plead with the Shiv Sena Supremo to help him. I was a witness to the father’s sufferings when he carried a tiffin from home to the Arthur Road Jail and sat outside the gate on a huge stone waiting for his son to finish his lunch. He sometimes used to get so desperate that he used to call me to join him outside the jail and then took me to the Oberoi Hotel for snacks and tea. He continued to fight all the battles for his son and strangely saw his son free and heaved a great sigh of relief…..

Sanjay Dutt_arthur Jail Road

Sunil Dutt was not interested in active politics but was always close to the Nehru and then the Gandhi family. When Mrs Gandhi was assassinated, her pilot-son Rajiv Gandhi was literally pushed into politics. The Congress contested the first elections to the Lok Sabha after the death of Mrs Gandhi. Rajiv planned out a new strategy and asked stars like his childhood friend, Amitabh Bachchan, Sunil Dutt and Vyjayanthimala to contest…..

Sunil Dutt was pitted against the formidable and fiery lawyer Ram Jethmalani from the Bombay North West constituency and many felt he was fighting a losing battle. But the day the entire film industry walked into the streets in his constituency Jethmalani is supposed to have given up the fight and told his supporters that even if one-fourth of the crowd that came out in support of Dutt, he would lose. The next day, Jethmalani was campaigning outside the Andheri station and when he saw the sparse crowd which even hooted him, he cried in public. He lost his deposit and vowed never to take part in electoral politics again. Dutt went on to win the next five elections, sometimes even without campaigning and sometimes only his friend Rajendra Kumar campaigning for him. Sadly for Dutt, when Sanjay was first involved in the Arms Act, Dutt had to first approach Jethmalani who promised to be of help but couldn’t do anything much.

Ram Jethamalini

The Congress Party used his popularity and his selfless work in his constituency to win the seat he held, but never gave him the position he so richly deserved. He had to wait for twenty years to be made the Union Minister of State for sports where he did the same kind of sincere work which was a part of his life…..

He was in Kanpur on some official work and had walked in the sun for several hours (his Padyatras was the talk of the country. He had walked from Mumbai to the Golden Temple in Amritsar soon after the riots of 1984, he had also walked from Hiroshima to Nagasaki to çommemorate the holocaust of the atom bomb playing havoc with these two cities in Japan)

He returned from Kanpur late that night in his new house in a massive building called Imperial Heights which were two towers built in the place where his bungalow was. He asked his Man Friday not to wake him up early the next morning. He did not wake up. He had gone away forever leaving the entire country in shock. His funeral was an example to show how very popular and loved he was by the common man more than the celebrities who lined up every road, lane and gully to have a last glimpse of the man who was called a messiah and Vishwashantidhoot(messenger of world peace).

sunil dutt old age

I had the very good fortune of spending the most exclusive, privileged moments with him is which I can only mention one here. He had survived a air crash while he was travelling with the family of one of his rich friends. The mini aircraft had crashed a few kilometres away from Mumbai. He took charge of the crisis and pushed out all the others including the pilot and was the last to jump out when the aircraft burst into fire and he was badly hurt and had to spend several months at the Breach Candy Hospital. He was discharged and had to walk on a crutch. I happened to be in a private hospital in Andheri and when he came to know about my condition, he came limping to see me and saw me everyday for the next twenty days and even made arrangements to see that I did not lack anything in my treatment. And how can I forget that one gesture? I told him about my autobiography and he offered to make all arrangements to get my book a dignified release. He printed the Invitation cards, he booked the venue, he Invited all the guests, from Dilip Kumar to Dev Anand and the world. He made all the MLAs and corporators under him to help in taking care of the guests and even serving them with the best snacks(he was very fond of good food). And finally, how can I forget that morning when we were travelling together to reach The Leela Hotel where his friend Mr P.K Nair had invited him to a South Indian breakfast. I stopped him at the entrance of my village and showed him a plaque bearing the name of the local encounter specialist and asked him,“Dutt Sahaab, if this killer can have a plaque in marble and gold, why not at least a tin plaque for the well-wisher of his family and my mentor and guide, K.A Abbas”? He thanked me for reminding him about“such a big crime”and made a note of it and did not rest till Abbas Sahaab had a similar plaque and a grand function to inaugurate it at the hands of Amitabh Bachchan and attended by Rishi Kapoor representing the Kapoor family towards which Abbas Sahaab had made a massive contribution and many admirers of Abbas Sahaab. And when the function was over, Dutt Sahaab embraced me and said,“thank you, Ali Sahaab you gave me a chance to do something for a very great Indian like Abbas Sahaab”.

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