Sanjay Dutt's career got off to a Rocky start in '81. Following a battle with drugs and a series of flops, it had hit a dead end five years later. In these testing times, his buddy who became his brother-in-law, Kumar Gaurav, not only stood by him but was determined to make a film that would bring him back into the race. This film was Naam.
The idea of two half-brothers came from Mahesh Bhatt, who during his growing up years was haunted by the ghost of his own illegitimacy. He sketched out the story of Ravi and Vicky to the two young actors and instantly, impulsively, Kumar Gaurav decided to turn it into a film under his banner.
His father, Rajendra Kumar, wasn't convinced, having spotted the dangers inherent in the script."Even though it was a two-hero project, Rajendra Kumar knew that the audience's sympathies would eventually swing from Kumar Gaurav's character Ravi to Sanju's bad boy Vicky," reasons Bhatt who went on to direct the film.
Naturally, no father would want his son to get overshadowed in a film he was producing but Kumar Gauarv stood his ground and insisted he wanted to make this film and none other. Eventually his dad gave in.
Bhatt then took his idea to Salim Khan. After the split of the Salim-Javed jodi, Javed Akhtar was the one getting the plum offers and it was being said that Salim had been just the business component in the partnership that had given Bollywood blockbusters like Sholay, Zanjeer, Trishul
and Seeta Aur Geeta
brought Salim Khan back into the spotlight as a scriptwriter and he gave it all he had. "He added box-office sparkle to my offbeat story of two half brothers and turned it into a blockbuster. Naam
was my first golden jubilee," reminisces Bhatt.
Sanjay Dutt, he remembers, was like a bhakt who surrendered himself completely to the film with single-minded dedication and boundless energy. "I never saw that kind of focus in Sanju again. With his stunning performance , he broke people's heart. We became a lifelong friend and years later, on the eve of his departure to the Yerwada Jail, I remember sitting with him and feeling as helpless as Kumar Gaurav's character in Naam
because there was so little that I could do for him," he sighs.
There's a word of praise for Amrita Singh too who played Sanjay's wife and the mother of his unborn child for whom he finally decides to give up his life of crime and return home. It was like waking up to a new day after a long dark night and was beautifully expressed in the song, Chhiti aaye hai
"Laxmikant-Pyarelal scored some beautiful songs for the film, but this is the one people still want to talk about whenever I travel to the Middle-East," says Bhatt, recalling how when Rajendra Kumar first heard Anand Bakshi's lyrics he innocently asked about the mukhdas and the anatras, convinced that a song that strayed from the traditional format would not work. Bhatt was far more accepting and Bakshi told their producer, "That's why you have put a younger director in charge. He understands my language, you don't," Once again, Rajendra Kumar gracefully gave in.
Pankaj Udhas, a popular ghazal singer in the '80s, not only recorded it but it was also picturuised on him. "Pankaj would shoot for us during the day and sing at concerts at night. He struck a chord with the Indian and Pakistani diaspora," points out Bhatt, adding that Salim saab had stressed on the bonds of brotherhood between the two countries through the friendship of Sanjay and Aakash Khurana, his Pakistani neighbour who stands by him when he is imprisoned in Dubai.
As he signs off Bhatt adds Naam's misguided search for identity would not have had the emotional impact it did without its mother figure. He says, "Nutan wasn't keeping well at the time but she instantly agreed to do the role and would come on the sets an hour-and-a-half early to get into the skin of the character. As always she was outstanding!"