Life for him was one crisis after the other — his early struggles as an actor, bankruptcy as a producer, the death of Nargis, his wife, battle against son Sanjay’s drug addiction and, later, TADA arrest.He bounced back time and again from personal tragedies which would have pulled down a lesser man. In public life, Dutt symbolises the never-say-die spirit.
With an ear to the ground and a hand on the pulse of the people, Sunil Dutt lived by his convictions and led from the front.He arrived in Bombay at the age of 18 with two pairs of clothes and Rs 25 in his pocket, determined to bring back the good times for his family which had lost everything during Partition. Holding a clerical job with the Bombay Bus Service and sharing a room with six others, which often necessitated sleeping out, Dutt studied in Jai Hind College and made some extra money by anchoring cultural shows. He interviewed film stars over Radio Ceylon. His good looks and deep voice prompted producer Ramesh Saigal to offer him the hero’s role in the film Railway Platform.
The turning point came in 1956 when producer Mehboob Khan signed him to play the son of leading lady Nargis in Mother India. For Nargis, it was the role of a lifetime.As we all know that he rescued his leading lady from a fire in the sets, they discovered they were in love and got married. Three children followed.
He 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).
He admired Jawaharlal Nehru, who had suggested that the film industry should do something for the jawans. Dutt and Nargis formed the Ajanta Arts Cultural Troupe and, roping in leading actors and singers from the film industry, held stage shows at border areas.The Dutts donated Rs 1 lakh to the National Defence Fund and grew closer to the Nehru family. Nehru enjoyed watching Sujata, which dealt with untouchability. The Dutts bonded well with Indira Gandhi too. Nargis was nominated to the Rajya Sabha in 1980, and was urged by Indira to take up the cause of spastic children. The former actress became the chairperson of the Spastics Society of India.
He was appointed the Sheriff of Bombay in 1981, Dutt was persuaded by the Gandhi family to enter politics and contest the Lok Sabha elections from Bombay Northwest. His reputation and clean image helped him win successive Lok Sabha elections, defeating formidable opponents like famous criminal lawyer Ram Jethmalani and Shiv Sena stalwarts such as Madhukar Sarpotdar.
In 1982, he set up the Nargis Dutt Memorial Cancer Foundation in New York which began to collect funds for cancer equipment in Mumbai’s Tata Memorial Hospital. In 1984 he was elected on a Congress ticket from Mumbai North-west to the 8th Lok Sabha.