Munna Bhai MBBS, the film that changed Sanjay Dutt and Rajkumar Hirani’s life, turned 19 on Monday, and till this day, it serves as a stark reminder of how someone’s reel-life image can transform their real-life image. But did you know, Shah Rukh Khan was initially roped in for the iconic role of Murli Prasad Sharma alias Munna?

After Sanjay Dutt was arrested for the possession of illegal weapons at the time of the Bombay blasts in 1992, the actor’s professional fate was considered sealed. Following his bail, multiple attempts were made to revive his career, but Dutt was written off as a sinking ship. While Mahesh Manjrekar’s 1999 Vaastav and Sanjay Gupta’s 2002 Reservoir Dogs remake Kaante provided some relief for Dutt, they still couldn’t rid him of his bad boy image. As a matter of fact, the features reinforced his gangster persona.

Shah Rukh Khan

It wasn’t until 2003, when newbie director Rajkumar Hirani cast Dutt as his leading man in the iconic Munna Bhai MBBS, and changed his career for the better. Although Hirani also cast Dutt as a goon, he made sure this goon was likeable. But Dutt was never Hirani’s first choice for the role, in fact, he was far from.

According to Bollywood Hungama, Hirani confessed, “My first choice was Anil Kapoor because he had played a lot of ‘bhai’ roles in films like Tezaab (1988). I thought that he might be the right guy to do this. We also approached Shah Rukh Khan.” Hirani explained why SRK never ended up playing the role, despite being locked for it. “I remember he was shooting for Devdas (2002) when I met him. I wished to narrate to him. But he said that since he’s busy, I should leave the script behind. I was dejected as I really wanted to give him a narration. Nevertheless, I dropped the script and left.”

Hirani continued, “Thankfully, Shah Rukh read the script and called me the next day. He told me to meet him. I did and he told me that he loved the script. But he kept wondering if I’d be able to make this film. Finally, he agreed.” But a problem arose. Hirani stated, “This was a time when he had to fly to London for his neck surgery. He didn’t take up any work for 6 months. Meanwhile, he already had many films lined up like Chalte Chalte (2003), Main Hoon Na (2004), Veer-Zaara (2004) etc. He informed me that he’ll finish these pending films and only then he can begin work on my film. It meant that I would have had to wait for 2-2 ½ years. Vinod didn’t think it was unfair to wait for such a long time as the songs were ready and other prep work was also completed.”

This is when Dutt came in the picture. “Finally, we came to realise that Sanju (Sanjay Dutt) seemed just right for the part. This is because he has the physique where he can look like a ‘bhai’. Also, with his dropping eyes and charming smile, he seems like someone whose heart is in the right place. Now, I look back and can say that he was the right choice.”

Interestingly, Dutt had not even read the script before giving his nod. His reason? Producer Vidhu Vinod Chopra. “Vinod is family, he’s like a brother to me,” Dutt had shared in a clip released by the production house.  Munna Bhai MBBS did for Dutt what no PR could have.

Dutt had admitted that both the Munna Bhai movies had not only changed the audience’s perception towards him as an actor, but his larger brand and image as well.

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