Frontline
December 1998
Cover Story

ĎThe film is problematic for people who are now in power, 
who created the problemsí

 ó Ajay Devgan

 Any special reason why you said yes to the offer to act in Zakhm? 
I was very charged about    the film after the way Bhatt Saheb narrated the whole storyline to me. Because, as far as I know Mahesh Bhatt, if he asks me to do a film, he is interested in doing that film. And he was very interested in this film. It was his last film. He had lived the film.

Itís amazing the way I said yes to the film. I was going through this phase when I was not signing too many films then ó actually, Iím not signing too many now either. I was in Madras shooting for some film. I was having a shower when he called me. I picked up the phone. It was Bhatt Saheb. He said, ďI want you to do this film.Ē ďWhat film?Ē I asked. I was in the shower and within five minutes he narrated the storyline to me. And I said, ďYes, Iím doing it. So something worked and Iím happy that I gave what I did to the film. Have you seen the film?
Yes, itís a beautiful filmÖ

It has a message. Itís showing the truth, about what happened to people. People who have seen the film have been moved by it. They have said, ďIt depicts the reality of what we actually lived through in December 1992, January 1993.Ē 

I donít find the film a ďsensitiveĒ film in the fashion that is being made out by the authorities to restrict its being shown. Itís sensitive in that it depicts a human trauma through the lived experience of one individual. Itís not problematic for you and me. Itís problematic for people who are now in power, who created the problems in Bombay. 

Above all, itís an honest film. And honesty hurts. Nobody can deny it because itís born of a personal experience. Nobody can  deny it. How can you deny it? Itís something that actually happened. It happened to you and me. Everybody lived through it. Everybody knows it depicts the truth. And thatís what scares people in power today.
You seem to have given lots more of yourself to this role than any other role in any other film?

The script, the scenes, everything was working so well. The director was so clear about what he wanted. He had gone through it, lived through it himself. So I did feel I had to work very hard on the role and ďactĒ in it. You could just feel the scene and just be. It was there. That was all I had to do. And itís worked. So well. Bhatt Saheb has achieved something that is very difficult: every actor from a smaller role to a bigger role performing so well. That is what has happened in this film. That credit goes to the director. He is right there and he is clear when he communicates what he is feeling to be there in the film, you can get it.

Now that the censor board has ordered cuts and youíve reĖshot the scenes do you expect any further problems with its release?
Yes, weíve reĖshot one scene. But if they want, they can create problems with the film because it indirectly reveals a lot of thingsÖsays many things. And they are in power so they can create problems. But I myself do not see the problem because what it shows is the truth of what happened in Bombay and it should come out. But if they want to create a problem they can. See what they did to Fire.

What are your reactions to the violent disruption of shows of the film Fire?
It was terrible. Let the people have the right to see whatever film they want to see. I have not seen the film but I am completely familiar with the concept. And thereís nothing wrong with it. We do still have the right to see what we want to see. Only a handful of people, a few hundred decide to take law into their own hands. I just donít understand their actions. Why do they do it? What are their reasons? To gain attention? Itís wrong. Each time they get away with it, they get emboldened. They do not represent public opinion, that is clear.

It was running to full houses which means people wanted to see it.
Yes, because that film, like Zakhm, also represents what happens, the choices that people exercise. Weíre still living in a democratic society though it doesnít seem like it sometimes. And these people are allowed to get away with it. Itís stupid. Itís disgusting.

Do you think this can happen to Zakhm? 
Well, anything can happen. They do what they did today and get away with it, who knows? They donít even need reasons. We  should expect anything now. You give me a logical reason for what they did yesterday. There is none.

You are also sole distributor of Zakhm and therefore have a big stake in the filmís release. What has the delay in its release meant? 
Well everything gets upset, the entire schedule. You lose out on a lot of things: Youíve started your publicity, youíve booked your chain of theatres, youíve done everything. And then suddenly because of a few people, youíve lost everything. So whoís going to bear all the expense and costs? The freedom of expression that we talk about, where is that freedom really?

Any regrets for the commercial stakes?
No, none, not at all because itís a beautiful film, itís fighting for a cause, itís a film that touches you. So if you lose something, itís fine. Iíve no regrets for having done this film because it has run into this controversy. If something happens tomorrow, Iím prepared for it. The way things are going, anything can happen now. If you can stop Fire, you can do anything. The best thing about Zakhm was that there was no insecurity about it, no commercial concern has dictated anyoneís actions, particularly the directorís, say for example, to put a song in, give some relief here or there.

Shabana Azmi has also been attacked for her role in FireÖ
If sheís done a role, fine actress that she is, sheís standing up for an emotion, fulfilling her job as an actress. People have to accept that all kind of relations exist. So even thatís an important cause. She has done what is right. And nobody has the right to stop it. She represents women and their right to make choices and she is doing her job right. This is no way to behave. There is no democracy left. Itís very wrong.

The star  who plays your childhood role was very goodÖ
He is superb. I was taken aback. He was very good. Thatís why I give credit to the director. Everybody is so into their characters. Thatís why itís working. Mahesh Bhatt has made a brilliant film, which is very true. Itís not just any other film. I want people to see the film not because Iím starring in it, or because Iím distributing it and thereís money involved. Zakhm depicts what has happened and thatís what they are preventing people from seeing ó the truth. Thatís why I donít want to speak more about the film. I want people to see it. I donít think I can justify the film by speaking about it.

What is your message to your fans about Zakhm?
Itís a necessary film and what the authorities ó the people in power the censor board, the home ministry, whatever ó whatever they are trying to do, frustrates me. They have no right to do that. What explanation do they have? I would like to know. Thatís why I would really want the film to get released soon so people can, in future too, make films like this. Thatís more important.     .    .


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