Sunil Dutt
Dutt at his New Delhi office in 2005
Minister of Youth Affairs and Sports
In office
22 May 2004 – 25 May 2005
Prime MinisterManmohan Singh
Preceded byVikram Verma
Succeeded byMani Shankar Aiyar
Member of Parliament, Lok Sabha
In office
Preceded byRam Jethmalani
Succeeded byMadhukar Sarpotdar
ConstituencyMumbai North West
In office
Preceded byMadhukar Sarpotdar
Succeeded byPriya Dutt
ConstituencyMumbai North West
Personal details
Balraj Dutt

(1929-06-06)6 June 1929
Khurd, Punjab, British India[1][2]
(present-day Punjab, Pakistan)
Died25 May 2005(2005-05-25) (aged 75)
Mumbai, Maharashtra, India
Cause of deathHeart attack
Political partyIndian National Congress
(m. 1958; died 1981)
Children3, including Sanjay Dutt and Priya Dutt
RelativesSee Dutt family
Residence(s)Bandra, West Mumbai, Maharashtra, India
Alma materJai Hind College
  • Actor
  • producer
  • director
  • politician
AwardsPadma Shri (1968)

Sunil Dutt (born Balraj Dutt; 6 June 1929 – 25 May 2005) was an Indian actor, film producer, director and politician. Dutt was honoured with Padma Shri, in 1968, by the Government of India, for his contribution to Indian cinema.[3][4]

Dutt debuted in 1955 with the Hindi film Railway Platform.[5] He rose to prominence with highly successful and acclaimed films, such as Ek Hi Raasta (1956) and Mother India (1957) and went on to deliver a number of hugely popular films in a career that spanned 48 years.[6][7]

Dutt married his Mother India co-star Nargis in 1958. Together they had three children, including the actor Sanjay Dutt.[8] In 1984 he joined the Indian National Congress party and was elected to the Parliament of India for five terms from the constituency of Mumbai North West. He was the Minister of Youth Affairs and Sports in the Manmohan Singh government (2004–2005) and also a former Sheriff of Mumbai.[9][10]

Early life

Sunil Dutt was born on 6 June 1929 in Nakka Khurd in the Jhelum District of the Punjab Province of British India (now in Punjab, Pakistan) into a Punjabi Hindu family of the Hussaini Brahmin caste, as Balraj Dutt to father Diwan Raghunath Dutt and mother Kulwantidevi Dutt.[1][2][3][11][12]

Dutt belonged to a family of landlords.[13] When he was five years old, Dutt's father died. When he was 18, the Partition of India began inciting Hindu-Muslim violence across the country.[13] A Muslim friend of Dutt's father named Yakub, saved their entire family.[14] The family resettled in the small village of Mandauli on the bank of the river Yamuna, located in the Yamunanagar District of East Punjab (now in Haryana).

Later in life, Dutt moved to Lucknow in the United Provinces with his mother, Kulwantidevi Dutt, and spent a long time in the Aminabad Bazaar neighbourhood during graduation. He then moved to Bombay, where he joined Jai Hind College of the University of Bombay in the Churchgate neighborhood of South Bombay, as an undergraduate and took up a job at the city's BEST Transportation Engineering division.[3][15] He graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in History (Hons.) in 1954.[3][16]

Film career

Early career and rise to prominence (1955–1957)

Director Ramesh Saigal was instrumental in giving Dutt a break in the film Railway Platform (1955) when the latter was hosting the show, Lipton Ki Mehfil on Radio Ceylon.[17] While covering the Dilip Kumar film Shikast in 1953, Dutt met director Saigal, who impressed by his personality and voice, offered him a role in his upcoming film. Saigal came up with the new screen name "Sunil Dutt" for the debutante actor whose real name was Balraj Dutt to avoid name conflicts with the then veteran actor Balraj Sahni.[18][19]

Actress Nargis tends to an injured Dutt on the sets of their film Mother India (1957) when the location caught fire

He shot to stardom with B.R. Chopra's family drama Ek Hi Raasta (1956) and Mehboob Khan's epic drama Mother India (1957).[20][21][22] While Ek Hi Raasta was a superhit, Mother India went many steps ahead and emerged an All Time Blockbuster along with being the most successful film of the 1950s.[23][24] It was dubbed in several European languages including Spanish, French and Russian; it did substantial business in Greece, Spain and Russia and was released in the Eastern Bloc countries.[25] Technicolor arranged one screening of the film in Paris on 30 June 1958, under the name Les bracelets d'or ("The Gold Bracelets").[25] It did minimal business in Paris, but fared better in French colonies. It was successful in the Latin American countries of Peru, Bolivia, and Ecuador.[25] Mother India was also acclaimed across the Arab world, in the Middle East, parts of Southeast Asia, and North Africa and continued to be shown in countries such as Algeria at least ten years after its release.[26][25][27][28] It went on to win several accolades and was also featured in the book 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die.[29][30]

Widespread success, setback and resurgence (1958–1979)

Dutt in 1958

He once again collaborated with B.R. Chopra for Sadhna (1958) opposite Vyjayanthimala.[31] The film did extremely well at the box office and went on to become a superhit.[32] The following year, he starred in Bimal Roy's Sujata and Shakti Samanta's Insan Jaag Utha.[33] While Sujata was a hit, Insan Jaag Utha could only manage average profits.[34] Sujata also received critical accalaim and went on to win National Film Award for Third Best Feature Film (Hindi).[35] From 1960 to 1962, he only delivered moderately successful films, such as Hum Hindustani in 1960, Chhaya in 1961 and Main Chup Rahungi in 1962.[36] The year 1963 brought him in the big league with superhits in Gumrah and Mujhe Jeene Do.[37] Apart from commercial success, both the films received highly positive reviews from critics and for his portrayal of a notorious bandit in Mujhe Jeene Do, Dutt won his first Filmfare Award for Best Actor.[38] In 1964, he directed, produced and starred in Yaadein, an experimental film having him as the sole actor.[39] It didnt do well at the box office, but received critical praise and won National Film Award for Second Best Feature Film (Hindi) as well as an entry in Guinness Book of World Records in the category Fewest actors in a narrative film.[40][41]

Dutt reached his peak in the mid-60s.[20] He began 1965 with Yash Chopra's ensemble masala film Waqt.[42] It opened to excellent response from the audience and proved to be a major blockbuster as well as the highest grossing film of the year.[43] Today it is widely regarded as a cult classic.[44] His next release was A. Bhimsingh's family drama Khandan which also performed very well and emerged a superhit with Dutt receiving immense acclaim for his portrayal of a dedicated family man and winning his second and final Filmfare Award for Best Actor.[45] In 1966, he had a blockbuster in Raj Khosla's thriller film Mera Saaya and a flop in Lekh Tandon's historical drama Amrapali.[46][47] The soundtrack of Mera Saaya composed by Madan Mohan was highly successful and one of the best-selling Hindi film albums of the 1960s.[48] Its songs, such as "Jhumka Gira Re" sung by Asha Bhosle and "Mera Saaya Saath", a solo by Lata Mangeshkar remain popular till date.[49] 1967 proved to be the best year of Dutt's career with three major commercial successes.[20] He first starred in Adurthi Subba Rao's reincarnation drama Milan.[50] A remake Of Telugu hit Mooga Manasulu (1964), Milan proved to be an equally successful venture at the box office with its songs "Sawan Ka Mahina", "Bol Gori Bol Tera Kaun Piya" and "Ram Kare Aisa Ho Jaye" topping the musical chart that year.[51] For portraying an innocent boatman in the film, Dutt received a nomination in the Filmfare Award for Best Actor category and won his first and only BFJA Award for Best Actor (Hindi).[52] His next release was Bhimsingh's drama film Mehrban which also had Ashok Kumar, Nutan, Mehmood, Sulochana Latkar and Shashikala in the lead.[53] Mehrban like Milan was also a commercially hit venture.[36] He concluded the year with B.R. Chopra's suspense thriller Hamraaz which received positive reviews from critics, eventually emerging a blockbuster and Dutt's third consecutive hit of the year.[54][55]

In 1968, he delivered another superhit in Jyoti Swaroop's musical comedy film Padosan.[56] Indiatimes ranked the film amongst the "Top 25 Must See Bollywood Films". Amit Upadhaya of ThePrint in a retrospective article on film's 50th anniversary wrote ″As cult comedy films go, Jyoti Swaroop’s Padosan is one of the few in Hindi film history to never run out of laughs. With its bare-bones plot about an innocent naïve young man Bhola, who falls in love with his dancer-singer neighbour Bindu and wins her over in a not-so-honest but oh-so-charming way, the focus in Padosan is entirely on scene mechanics and individual performances.[57] In a similar 50th anniversary article, Devansh Sharma of Firstpost gave credit to RD Burman's soundtrack for changing the state of comedy genre in Hindi films as he felt that ″Burman's music gave wings to the camera that was otherwise doomed to sit still. Krishan's poetry also allowed the editor and director a lot of freedom as they could choose the appropriate shot for every emotion expressed in the songs.″[58] The year 1969 saw the rise of superstar Rajesh Khanna, who stormed the nation with mega blockbusters in Aradhana and Do Raaste.[59] With his rise, many stars saw a decline in their career graph and Dutt was one of them.[60] That year he only saw a moderate success in Raj Khosla's Chirag while rest of his films didnt do well.[61] The series of failures continued from 1970 to 1972 with films, such as Reshma Aur Shera (which he also directed), Zindagi Zindagi and Zameen Aasmaan.[7]

With his films facing rejection at the box office, Dutt decided to reinvent himself and made a big comeback in 1973 with Sultan Ahmed's superhit action drama film Heera which also had Shatrughan Sinha, Asha Parekh and Farida Jalal in the lead.[62] Heera re-established Dutt's career and he enjoyed a strong innings in the 70s with a string of successes.[7] The following year, he solidified his comeback with hits, such as Geeta Mera Naam, Pran Jaye Per Vachan Na Jaye and received praise for his performance in 36 Ghante, a crime thriller based on the 1954 novel The Desperate Hours.[63][64] Dutt's two major releases of 1975 were – Raja Thakur's Zakhmee and Sikandar Khanna's Umar Qaid.[65][66] Zakhmee which also had Asha Parekh, Rakesh Roshan and Reena Roy in the lead proved to be a superhit at the box office.[67] His other release Umar Qaid also performed well commercially and went on to become a hit venture.

In 1976, Dutt appeared in Rajkumar Kohli's horror thriller Nagin.[68] Despite being a fantasy type film, it was a major critical and commercial success, eventually emerging a blockbuster as well as the top grosser of 1976.[69] After not tasting any success in 1977, he donned director's hat once again for Daaku Aur Jawan which released in 1978 and proved to be a critical and commercial hit.[70]

The success streak continued in 1979 with another blockbuster in Jaani Dushman which was also one of the most profitable films of the year along with Noorie, Dada and Sargam.[69] Apart from Jaani Dushman, he also delivered a semi-hit with Muqabla co-starring Shatrughan Sinha, Reena Roy and Bindiya Goswami.[71]

Shift to character roles, hiatus and final works (1980–2003)

Dutt began the new decade with a supporting role in Ramesh Sippy's mega-budget action crime film Shaan (1980).[72] The film received positive reviews from critics and did well at ticket counters, but owing to the huge costs, it was declared an average grosser.[73] In 1981, he launched his son Sanjay Dutt's career with Rocky which was a hit.[74] Shortly before the film's release, Nargis died of pancreatic cancer. Dutt founded the Nargis Dutt Foundation in her memory for the curing of cancer patients.[75] In 1982, he appeared alongside Dharmendra and Jeetendra in Rajkumar Kohli's action thriller Badle Ki Aag which was a box office success.[76] He then directed, produced and starred in critically acclaimed film Dard Ka Rishta.[77] After gap of a year, he appeared in two biggies – Raaj Tilak and Laila.[78] While Raaj Tilak emerged a hit at the box office, the latter proved to be a disaster.[79]

None of Dutt's releases in 1985 and 1986 worked at the box office, but this changed in 1987 with T. Rama Rao's multi-starrer actioner Watan Ke Rakhwale, which proved to be a hit.[80] After appearing in Dharamyudh (1988), he took a brief hiatus and returned with Deepak Bahry's drama film Kurbaan in 1991.[81] Apart from Kurbaan, he also appeared in biggies, such as Pratigyabadh (1991), Kshatriya (1993) and Parampara (1993), but none of them found any success.[82] After this, he retired from the film industry to focus on his duties as a politician.[83]

Dutt returned to films once again in 2003 with Rajkumar Hirani's satirical comedy drama Munna Bhai M.B.B.S. which had his son in the lead.[84] Munna Bhai M.B.B.S. opened to highly positive reviews from critics and proved to be a commercially hit venture.[85] Today it is considered a classic and one of the best films ever made in the history of Indian cinema.[86][87] It also proved to be the last film of Sunil Dutt as he passed away shortly after its release.[88]

Political career

In 1982, he was appointed as the Sheriff of Bombay, an apolitical titular position bestowed on him by the Maharashtra government for a year.[89] In 1995, he won the Filmfare Lifetime Achievement Award for his contribution to the film industry for four decades.[90]

In 1987 when Punjab was facing heightened militancy, Dutt, accompanied by his daughter Priya undertook a 2,000 km 76 day long Mahashanti Padyatra (journey by foot) from Bombay to Amritsar (Golden Temple) to establish communal harmony and brotherhood.[91][92][93] During the padyatra, he attended more than 500 roadside meetings and suffered a bout of jaundice.[94]

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 that he claimed was for the protection of his family after bomb blasts in Bombay.[95]

Personal life

Dutt with wife Nargis in 1959

Dutt married actress Nargis, a Muslim, also of Punjabi Mohyal descent, on 11 March 1958. Prior to their marriage, Nargis converted to Hinduism and adopted the name Nirmala Dutt.[96][97] Reportedly, Dutt had saved her life from a fire on the sets of Mother India.[98] They had three children: Sanjay Dutt, Namrata Dutt, and Priya Dutt. Sanjay went on to become a successful film actor. Namrata married actor Kumar Gaurav, son of veteran actor Rajendra Kumar who had appeared alongside Nargis and Dutt in Mother India. Priya became a politician and a Member of Parliament (Lok Sabha).[98]

With his wife, Dutt formed the Ajanta Arts Cultural Troupe, which involved several leading actors and singers of the time, and performed at remote frontiers to entertain the Indian soldiers at border. It was the first troupe to perform in Dhaka, after the liberation war of Bangladesh in 1971.[99]

Dutt's wife Nargis died in 1981. One year after her death, the Nargis Dutt Memorial Cancer Foundation was established by Dutt in her memory.[100]


Dutt at an event on 25 May 2004 (one year before his death)

Dutt died of a heart attack on 25 May 2005 at his residence in Bandra, West Mumbai, at age 75.[101] At the time of his death, he was the Minister for Youth Affairs and Sports in the Union Government led by Manmohan Singh and was the Member of Parliament from North-West Mumbai. He was cremated with full state honours at Santacruz Crematorium in Mumbai. He was succeeded as Minister by Mani Shankar Aiyar. His seat in the Parliament was contested by his daughter, Priya Dutt, who won it and was a Member of Parliament until May 2014.[102]

Awards and honours

Artistry and legacy

Sunil Dutt's signed photo

Dutt is regarded as one of the greatest actors of Indian cinema.[107] He is known for his acting, mannerism and to dare to take up risky and non-commercial projects in his prime years, such as Mujhe Jeene Do, Yaadein and Reshma Aur Shera.[108] He was also noted as a serial talent-spotter, giving major breaks to then struggling actors Amitabh Bachchan, Vinod Khanna, Ranjeet and Shakti Kapoor in his home productions Reshma Aur Shera and Rocky respectively.[109][110] One of the most successful actors of 1960s and 1970s, Dutt appeared in Box Office India's "Top Actors" list in 1966 and 1967.[20] In 2022, Dutt was placed in Outlook India's "75 Best Bollywood Actors" list.[111]

In popular culture


Film Year Role Notes
Railway Platform 1955 Ram
Kundan Amrit
Ek-Hi-Raasta 1956 Amar
Rajdhani N/A
Kismet Ka Khel Prakash Verma
Payal 1957 Mohan
Mother India Birju
Sadhna 1958 Professor Mohan
Post Box 999 Vikas
Sujata 1959 Adhir
Insaan Jaag Utha Ranjeet
Didi Gopal
Usne Kaha Tha 1960 Nandu
Hum Hindustani Surendra Nath
Ek Phool Char Kaante Sanjeev
Duniya Jhukti Hai Mohan / Bankelal[a]
Chhaya 1961 Arun / Poet Rahi
Main Chup Rahungi 1962 Kamal Kumar
Jhoola Dr. Arun
Gumraah 1963 Rajendra
Aaj Aur Kal Dr. Sanjay
Yeh Rastey Hain Pyar Ke Anil Sahni
Nartakee Professor Nirmal Kumar
Mujhe Jeene Do Thakur Jarnail Singh Filmfare Award for Best Actor
Yaadein 1964 Anil also director and producer
Gazal Ejaaz
Beti Bete Ramu / Krishna
Waqt 1965 Advocate Ravi Khanna (Bablu)
Khandan Govind Shankar Lal Filmfare Award for Best Actor
Mera Saaya 1966 Thakur Rakesh Singh
Gaban Ramnath
Amrapali Magadh Samrat Ajatashatru
Maitighar Sunil Cameo
Milan 1967 Gopinath (Gopi) BFJA Award for Best Actor (Hindi)
Hamraaz Kumar / S. N. Sinha
Mehrban Kanhaiya
Padosan 1968 Bhola
Sadhu Aur Shaitaan Catholic Priest D'souza Cameo
Gauri Sunil Kumar
Pyasi Sham 1969 Raja
Meri Bhabhi Raju
Jwala Sunil Cameo
Chirag Ajay Singh
Bhai Bahen Surendra Pratap
Darpan 1970 Balraj Dutt
Bhai-Bhai Ashok / Manish[a]
Reshma Aur Shera 1971 Shera Singh also director and producer
Jwala Jwala
Zindagi Zindagi 1972 Dr. Sunil
Zameen Aasmaan Ravi
Jai Jwala Major Anand
Man Jeete Jag Jeet 1973 Bagga Daaku / Baghel Singh Punjabi film
Heera Heera
Kora Badan 1974 Sunil Cameo
Geeta Mera Naam Suraj / Johnny
Pran Jaye Par Vachan Na Jaye Raja Thakur
Dukh Bhanjan Tera Naam Sadhu Punjabi film; Cameo
36 Ghante Himmat Singh
Zakhmee 1975 Anand
Umar Qaid Raja
Neelima Sunil Cameo
Himalay Se Ooncha Vijay
Akela N/A
Nagin 1976 Vijay
Nehle Pe Dehla Sunil
Darinda 1977 Krishna / Yogidutt
Ladki Jawan Ho Gayi Sunil
Paapi Raj Kumar
Gyaani Ji Pilot Sardar Hari Singh
Charandas Advocate Tondon Cameo
Aakhri Goli Vikram
Sone Ki Lanka 1978 Satpal
Ram Kasam Bhola / Shankar[a]
Kaala Aadmi Birju
Daaku Aur Jawan Birju also director and producer
Muqabla 1979 Vikram (Vicky)
Jaani Dushman Laakhan
Ahinsa Birju
Salaam Memsaab Naresh Sarit Cameo
Lahu Pukarega 1980 Jitu
Shaan DSP Shiv Kumar
Yari Dushmani Shambhu
Ganga Aur Suraj Inspector Ganga
Ek Gunah Aur Sahi Shankar Ramdas
Rocky 1981 Shankar also director and producer
Meena Kumari Ki Amar Kahani Himself Documentary
Badle Ki Aag 1982 Lakhan
Dard Ka Rishta Dr. Ravi Kant Sharma also director and producer
Film Hi Film 1983 Himself Documentary
Raaj Tilak 1984 Jai Singh
Laila Dharamraj Singh / Thakur Prithviraj Singh[a]
Yaadon Ki Zanjeer Ravi Kumar
Faasle 1985 Vikram
Kala Dhanda Goray Log 1986 Gauri Shankar / Michael
Mangal Dada Mangal Dada
Watan Ke Rakhwale 1987 Jailor Suraj Prakash
Raj Kapoor Himself Documentary
Dharamyudh 1988 Thakur Vikram Singh
Akarshan Himself Guest appearance
Yeh Aag Kab Bujhegi 1991 Professor Kishna also director and producer
Kurbaan Prithvi Singh
Pratigyabadh Pascal
Hai Meri Jaan Telegram Wala Cameo
Virodhi 1992 Police Commissioner Jagdish Kapoor
Kshatriya 1993 Maharaj Bhavani Singh
Parampara Thakur Bhavani Singh
Phool Balram Choudhary
Munna Bhai M.B.B.S. 2003 Hari Prasad Sharma
Om Shanti Om 2007 Magadh Samrat Ajatashatru Recreated via CGI during the song "Dhoom Tana", (archive footage)

See also

Further reading


  1. ^ a b c d Dutt played two characters.


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  4. ^ a b "Padma Awards | Interactive Dashboard". Archived from the original on 11 October 2020. Retrieved 14 August 2020.
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  8. ^ "The Nargis and Sunil Dutt love story: When he saved her from fire and she found the love of her life". Hindustan Times. 1 June 2021. Retrieved 5 September 2021.
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