The Hindi film industry erupted with outrage and concern as Salman Khan was today sentenced to five years in jail for killing endangered blackbucks, with many of his colleagues stressing that the successful actor had been punished because he was a star, and just a few pointing out that justice had been delivered. As the 52-year-old actor’s friends and colleagues reacted with shock over the jail term for the superstar in the 1998 poaching case, director Subhash Ghai said Khan was likely to appeal to a higher court.
“I am extremely shocked,” Ghai, who has worked with Khan in several films, tweeted. The director said he had “full trust in the Indian judiciary which has many other doors” for an “appeal for final justice”. Friends started tweeting and fans began to gather outside Khan’s house in Galaxy Apartment, Bandra, soon after the verdict was announced.
A police van has been stationed outside his house since the morning. “I don’t know how to react. I am numb. I hope he stays strong. His fans will always love him,” a young devotee, standing outside the actor’s house, said. Khan was taken to the Jodhpur Central Jail after he was convicted of gunning down two blackbuck 20 years ago in Rajasthan, where he was shooting for Hum Saath Saath Hain. His co-stars in the film — Saif Ali Khan, Tabu, Neelam and Sonali Bendre — were acquitted in the case, with the judge of the sessions court giving them the “benefit of the doubt”.
Neelam’s husband, actor-director Samir Soni, said though he was happy for his wife, he believed Salman Khan had been targeted for his star status. “I have mixed emotions right now. I am happy for Neelam and the rest. It is a 20- year-old ordeal. I don’t know why Salman was singled out. It seems his (star) status has come in the way,” Soni told PTI. Many, including Ghai, sought to stress that Khan was a “nice” man. He was “most loved … for his human reasons too”, Ghai tweeted.
Actor-Parliamentarian Jaya Bachchan said the punishment was harsh, and added that Khan had done “a lot of humanitarian work”.
“I feel bad. He should be given relief. He has done a lot of humanitarian work,” she told reporters outside Parliament. Actor Himani Shivpuri, who played Khan’s aunt in the film, said he was a “nice individual” who was “near and dear” to her.
The judiciary’s verdict, however, had to be respected, she said, adding that the blackbuck was an endangered species, sacred to the Bishnoi tribe. “…I feel if you are killing or shooting an innocent animal (and) it is against the law, then the law has every right to pass a judgement. I am saddened as Salman is a nice individual but if a nice individual commits a mistake then he should be able to bear the consequences,” Shivpuri told PTI.
Actor Alok Nath, Khan’s on-screen father in the 1999 film, was more cautious in his reaction. “It is the honourable court’s judgement, so we have to take it and respect it as they have studied the case for 20 years,” he said. Singer-writer Sona Mohapatra, without taking names, was sharply critical of the actor and the fraternity. “So…will daddy say sorry on his behalf? What will the suck ups in the industry do? When’s bail? When’s the next block buster release? Dabangg ‘concert’ tour dates? Bigg Boss? Charity drives,” she tweeted.
Actor Arjun Rampal tweeted to say the decision seemed a bit “too harsh”. “The law takes its course. Can’t argue (with) it. But at this point in time I just feel helpless and my heart goes out to @BeingSalmanKhan and his family. Reason, cause the last thing @BeingSalmanKhan is, is a criminal.I feel this is too harsh. I do hope he gets the relief he deserves,” the actor said.
Filmmaker Anil Sharma, who directed Khan in “Veer”, said he hoped the actor would soon get bail.
“It’s very disturbing. Salman is my colleague, we have worked together. When something like this happens with your colleague you are bound to feel sad. We were hopeful he won’t be sentenced but now we hope he gets bail soon,” he told PTI.
Actor Dalip Tahil expressed concern that only Khan was convicted, while the others were all acquitted. “I am still trying to get my head around the decision. You target him…where is the justice in this? You completely acquit the rest of the people. If they were there… they were also a part of the crime,” Tahil told a TV channel.
The fan outside Khan’s house said he had hoped the actor would be acquitted. “After seeing him battle these hearings year after year, we had somehow thought he would never go to jail. But this is so shocking. I hope he stays strong,” he said.
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