First of all, how do you feel about your wife's nomination to the Rajya Sabha?
Well, it's her choice. If she wants to do it who am I to stop her? She's an independent-minded individual. In my family, everyone has the right to make his or her own decisions. My son and daughter have equal rights. When I die they'll get equal portions of whatever little assets I have. No one in my family has ever discriminated between the two genders.
So for Jaya I haven't decided that she'd stay at home and be a housewife. If she took that decision at the peak of her film career in 1973 then it was her decision. Now it's her decision to enter politics. I've no objection whatsoever to her going into politics. I am not into politics, never will be.
Before "Dev", issue-based films have never been a part of your career.
That may be because I've never worked with directors like Govind Nihalani before. Quite suddenly, I have the privilege of working with directors who project a conscience beyond the borders of escapism, like Govind, Sanjay Leela Bhansali and Farhan Akhtar.
Their films are never run-of-the-mill. And even if they are, they'd never treat the project in a routine manner. Working with Govind proved a revealing experience. "Dev" is a very powerful subject. It goes into a dark area of our society where we seldom venture. We seldom talk about the isolation of a community or how it affects the fabric of our nation.
Why do you think a section of the audience has reacted adversely?
Maybe they find it too dark and too true to be palatable. Some people feel they've seen it before. But that's not true. A film on the politicisation of the police force has never been done before.
Another criticism is that "Dev" is too verbose. But the point is, how do you get across ideas in an issue-based film if not through the dialogues? Many times I'm asked where all those wonderful dialogues from the 1960s and 1970s have gone. Now when we have a dialogue-driven film and they complain it's too wordy. Somewhere the critics will have to make up their minds.
Nihalani's cinema requires a different performing discipline. Did you have to undergo an re-orientation?
No! The scenes, situations and dialogues are sufficient to guide an actor. If I'm asked to react to the horrors of a communal riot I'd instinctively know I'm not coming out of an egg ("Amar Akbar Anthony") or dangling from a helicopter. In "Dev", there were serious, legitimate issues to be addressed. I reacted accordingly.
Was it a moving experience to go through the trauma of the riots?
Oh, most certainly. In the sequence where a whole chawl (tenements) was burnt down, I was petrified - first of all for the safety of the junior artistes who were jumping down in flames. Personally, it was very disturbing to relive such barbarism. But to move away would be even more unacceptable. This is what happened. Everything in "Dev" has happened.
Would you say "Dev" is your most politically conscious film?
A: No...I think Tinu Anand's "Main Azaad Hoon" was equally political. That too was a comment on the festering political system. But "Dev" probes recent wounds...I can't say why audiences haven't taken to the film. They're the ones paying money to buy the tickets. If they don't like a film we've to accept their verdict.
If filmmakers buckle under, then there'll be more "Girlfriend" than "Dev" in the theatres.
Pushing the envelope is all very fine. But it has to come not just from a random film here and there. The change has to be organized, and decentralized. We first have to educate the masses on the nuances, not just of cinema but literature and other aesthetics. Only then can they appreciate good cinema. If the average man doesn't know how to stop at a red light how do you expect him to stop for "Dev".