Bollywood superstar Salman Khan was on Thursday sentenced to five years in prison after a court here convicted him for killing two rare blackbucks, putting an end, at least for now, to a legal battle that ran for 20 years.
Chief Judicial Magistrate Dev Kumar Khatri, while pronouncing the guilty verdict in the case of killing the protected antelopes, called Salman, 52, a “habitual offender” under the wildlife protection laws of the country.
Salman’s sisters Alvira and Arpita were present in the court when the judgement was pronounced.
Amid tight security, Salman was taken to the Jodhpur Central Jail where he will spend at least a night in barrack number one. The prison houses rape-accused Asaram Bapu, Bhanwari Devi murder accused Malkhan Singh Vishnoi and Shambhu Lal Regar, arrested for killing a Muslim and blatantly filming the act.
The court also imposed a small fine of Rs 10,000 on one of the biggest Bollywood stars who currently has an upwards of Rs 600 crore worth of unfinished film projects under his belt.
Salman has sought bail but his application will be heard on Friday morning in the Jodhpur sessions court. If the bail does not come through, he will have to stay in jail for at least three more days as the weekend follows.
Prosecution alleged that Salman and other Bollywood stars Saif Ali Khan, Tabu, Sonali Bendre and Neelam went hunting on the October 1-2 in 1998 outside a forest reserve near Kankani village in Jodhpur while shooting for “Hum Saath Saath Hain” in 1998.
The four co-stars and a local, Dushyant Singh, were all acquitted.
This is the fourth time Salman was sent to Jodhpur jail. Earlier, he spent 18 days in the jail at different times in 1998, 2006 and 2007 — all in poaching cases. Every time, he was released on bail.
Soon after the guilty verdict, members of Bishnoi community, who worship the antelope believing that it is a reincarnation of a 600-year-old guru, celebrated in front of the court.
The Bishnoi community was anguished by the poaching incident and had filed a complaint against the stars, saying they heard gunshots being fired shortly after midnight on October 1, 1998.
This is one of many legal battles Salman has faced in the last 20 years, including allegations of killing a homeless man while driving drunk in Mumbai, a charge he was acquitted of.
He was also booked for keeping a weapon under an expired arms licence. But a trial court had acquitted him.
In other cases, he was accused of killing two protected chinkaras in Bhawad and one in Mathania. However, the Rajasthan High Court acquitted him in 2016.
The film fraternity has its fingers crossed over Friday morning’s court hearing on the actor’s bail plea.
A popular, high net-worth superstar, Salman is either acting in or producing through his family production houses, several major upcoming films with a potential to be blockbusters, Bollywood insiders said.
Currently, there are around half a dozen big-budget films lined up on the floor or at advanced planning stages, including “Race 3”, which is almost complete, “Dabangg 3”, “Partner 2”, “Kick 2′, “Bharat”, “No Entry Mein Entry”, “Sher Khan” and “Loveratri”, said K. Ramji of Krishnamurthy Films.
On TV, he has a comeback season of reality TV show “Dus Ka Dum” and likely a new edition of reality show “Bigg Boss”.
Some of his Bollywood colleagues said they were saddened with the verdict.
“I am feeling bad… The film industry has invested so much on him, they will suffer loss. After 20 years, they are finding him guilty. But law takes its course… What can one say?” actor-politician Jaya Bachchan said.
Filmmaker Subhash Ghai said he was “extremely shocked” to hear Salman’s conviction. “Since he is most loved person by industry and people for his human reasons too”, Ghai said, he would get justice in the higher court.
Actor Alok Nath, who played Salman’s on-screen father in “Hum Saath Saath Hain”, told a TV channel that it was “tragic” that such a verdict has come after two decades.
Arjun Rampal said he was feeling “helpless and my heart goes out to Salman Khan and his family”.