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Salman Khan Guilty In Blackbuck Poaching Case: Bollywood’s Favourite Bad Boy With The Metaphorical Nine Lives

Salman Khan At The TiE Global Summit
Salman Khan At The TiE Global Summit

Bollywood superstar Salman Khan, on Thursday, was sentenced to five years in prison after a Jodhpur court convicted him for killing two rare blackbucks, putting an end, at least for a very short while, to a legal battle that ran for 20 years. Chief Judicial Magistrate Dev Kumar Khatri, while pronouncing the verdict, called Salman a “habitual offender” under the wildlife protection laws of the country.

Salman’s sisters Alvira and Arpita were present at the court. Amid tight security, Salman was taken to the Jodhpur Central Jail where he spent the night in barrack number one. He was in “August company” as 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 the actor.

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 it’s the weekend. 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. Except Salman, all of them including a local Dushyant Singh, have been acquitted.

In earlier interviews, Salman had claimed that he was not the one who shot the blackbuck.

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 case. He was released on bail every time. Soon after the verdict, members of the Bishnoi community, who worship the antelope believing that it is a reincarnation of their 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.

A popular and high net-worth superstar, Salman is either acting or producing through his family production houses, with several major upcoming films and potential blockbusters. Around Rs 600 crores is riding on him. Currently, there are around half a dozen big-budget films lined up to go on floors 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. He also has a comeback season of reality TV show Dus Ka Dum and a new edition of Bigg Boss.

 As soon as the quantum of sentence was announced, several Bollywood stars rushed to his defence.

Soon #WeLoveSalmanKhan hashtags started trending on Twitter.
Why Bollywood loves to shield men like Salman Khan?

Salman’s fans are acquainted with the sweet, boy-next-door Prem from Hum Aapke Hai Kaun. The Prem who is soft-spoken, mischievous and a prankster, but is the apple of everyone’s eye. Head over heels in love with Nisha. Ready to sacrifice the love of his life for his elder brother. Unlike the Prem of Hum Aapke Hain Kaun, or of Saajan, Hum Saath Saath Hain or Prem Ratan Dhan Paayo, Salman Khan in real life, is hardly the characters he portrays on-screen.

Not just his brush with the law, his former girlfriends have accused of physical and emotional abuse much before he became the Bhai for the masses. Somy Ali, Sangeeta Bijlani and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan have all gone on record of suffering abuse when they were dating him. They feared for their lives every time this man flew into a rage. From pouring rum and coke on Somy Ali’s head, being emotionally abusive to Sangeeta Bijlani to physically abusing Aishwarya Rai, Salman Khan doesn’t practice what he preaches of ‘Being Human’.

Aishwarya, who is a private person, had opened up about her relationship with Salman Khan in an interview with The Times Of India.

“After we broke up, he would call me and talk rubbish. He also suspected me of having affairs with my co-stars. I was linked up with everyone, from Abhishekh Bachchan to Shah Rukh Khan. There were times when Salman got physical with me, luckily without leaving any marks. And I would go to work as if nothing had happened,” she was quoted as saying.  

Yet his fans claim, this man has changed and turned over a new leaf. His fans defend him, they are convinced that he has been ‘wronged’ by the people around him and the society. Who do you say are these people? Primarily, his ex-girlfriends who found ‘success’ after ‘using him’ and manipulating him. The man is responsible for launching several ‘talents’ in Bollywood. Right from Sooraj Pancholi to his brother-in-law, Aayush Sharma. He has even ‘helped’ boost Katrina Kaif’s career in Bollywood. She is now one of the biggest names in Bollywood, but has maintained her friendship with Salman Khan, as they were also rumoured to be a couple. However, long back there were rumours that he had hit Katrina Kaif with a stick when she chose to wore a piece of clothing not acceptable to ‘Bhai’.

However, his bad boy persona was put to rest as soon as he launched an NGO named ‘Being Human’. This charitable organisation helped several people with financial assistance in their medical needs. Heart surgeries, cancer treatments etc were financed by Salman and soon he became the troubled star with a heart of gold. The late 2000s saw a much subdued version of Bhai, as positioned by his strong PR. Bhai, spoke eloquently, drew paintings and launched a whole bunch of gym-goers. This absolved him of the crimes of having beaten up his ex-girlfriends. Bhai 2.0 also saw the launch of films such as Wanted, Bodyguard, Kick, Bajrangi Bhaijaan and Sultan, where even his harshest critics had to eat their words and marvel at his box office success. Most of his movies sail past the Rs 100 crores mark. Even when Tubelight flopped, Bhai ensured that he paid back to the distributors. Bhai has now become the most bankable star of our times and his superstardom has reached mythical proportion. Currently, there are projects worth Rs 500 crores riding on him and not to forget the endless list of moochers who are found loitering in and around Galaxy Apartments in Bandra.

All said and done, Bhai apparently is not to be blamed for any crime he has committed. Right from the judiciary to the state governments, drivers, blackbucks and the people sleeping on the footpath have all wronged Bhai. Bhai, is clearly the victim here.

During the promotions of Sultan, Salman in order to show his dedication to his art, had said, “While shooting, during those six hours, there’d be so much of lifting and thrusting on the ground involved. That was tough for me because if I was lifting, I’d have to lift the same 120-kilo guy 10 times for 10 different angles. And likewise, get thrown that many times on the ground. This act is not repeated that many times in the real fights in the ring. When I used to walk out of the ring, after the shoot, I used to feel like a raped woman. I couldn’t walk straight. I would eat and then, head right back to training. That couldn’t stop.” 

As infuriating and misogynistic the comment was, Bollywood rushed to defend its favourite man-child with his father taking the lead.

“It was just the kind of (statement) where we compare things… I worked like a donkey; so now people will say you used the word ‘donkey’ and some animal activist will come after you,” was what his brother Arbaaz Khan had to say.

Director Subhash Ghai who had once alleged that Salman hit him, came to his defence and said, “He is  just a child.”

Bhai with anger issues, misogynistic tendencies, Bollywood’s darling bad boy can do no wrong. For his fans and friends in Bollywood, he has always been misunderstood and victimised. A conviction in a lower court is not a big hurdle for Salman, who has repeatedly bounced back. Bhai is the man who resonates toxic masculinity not only on screen but also in real life, but thanks to a robust PR machinery and clout, his popularity goes on soaring.

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