Distinguished economist and cinema specialist Lord Meghnad Desai says Bollywood star Sanjay Dutt probably confused his macho silver screen persona with real life when he allegedly procured a gun to save his family from attacks 14 years ago.
Desai was speaking Wednesday at the launch of Darlingji: The True Love Story of Nargis and Sunil Dutt, a book on Sanjay Dutt's actor-parents written by Lady Kishwar Desai, the economist's wife.
Explaining Sanjay Dutt's allegedly criminal behaviour during the 1993 Mumbai bomb blasts case, Meghnad Desai likened him to the late Hollywood actor-turned US President Ronald Reagan.
"Like Ronald Reagan, he could not distinguish between real and screen life. He didn't really know what the reality was," Desai said.
Sanjay Dutt, along with 16 others, was granted bail Tuesday.
But Desai told an audience that included High Commissioner Kamalesh Sharma that the actor should be treated just the same as others who are standing trial with him.
"It would be outrageous if he got treated differently from others who are standing trial with him. A lot of them have been punished. Just because you are Sanjay Dutt does not mean that the law will treat you differently," Desai added.
His wife Kishwar Desai agreed, but put up a stout defence of Sanjay Dutt: "Obviously, he made a mistake and he said he made a mistake. All of us make mistakes and none of us can afford to be judgemental."
Kishwar Desai said drugs were common in Indian university campuses in the 1970s, and "I don't think drug addiction was anything unique to Sanjay".
About his alleged procurement of a gun during the 1993 Hindu-Muslim riots in Mumbai, she said her book shows how "they (the Dutts) had very close links with the mafia.
"If you were a young kid who had grown up in the film industry watching cinema being made you'd see that some of the financiers were (Mafia) dons. You would not have thought of them as bad people because they were actually funding your films.
"So when you were in trouble, who would you call? I'm not saying this is what Sanjay is saying. I am saying this is a reasonable way of looking at things. Your father got several death threats, you don't know how to protect your sister or yourself, people are calling up you up saying they will burn your house, rape your sister.
"You want to protect yourself because the police may not come. So you call up somebody who you think may or may not have a gun. It's a reasonable explanation that in his mind there was nothing wrong because these were the guys who were running the film industry at that time and were known to everybody," the writer said.
"It's just that he got caught. A lot of young people who got funding and other sorts of support from them never got caught," she added.