Bollywood holds breath as Salman Khan faces jail
MUMBAI – A guilty verdict for Salman Khan on Wednesday in a 13-year-old hit-and-run could derail some of Bollywood’s most prized projects if India’s most bankable actor is put behind bars.
Khan faces up to 10 years in jail if convicted of causing the death of a person after allegedly driving over five men sleeping on a Mumbai pavement in September 2002.
The prosecution has alleged Khan was driving drunk and lost control of the car. But the 49-year-old actor has denied being behind the wheel, in spite of several witnesses testifying against him.
In March, the actor’s driver told a Mumbai court that he had been driving the car while Khan was in the passenger seat.
If found guilty, Khan could appeal in a higher court.
Still, Bollywood has reason to be worried. Khan is the most bankable actor in India, consistently delivering money-spinners in a hit-starved film industry.
Khan’s image as an action hero with a heart of gold appeals to Indian audiences across the board. Over the past five years, films such as “Dabangg“, “Dabangg 2“, “Bodyguard“, “Ek Tha Tiger“, and “Kick” have found a place in Bollywood’s list of highest-grossing films.
“It’s not just about the films he has in hand. It’s about the films he will be making in the next five years,” Shailesh Kapoor of Ormax Media, which tracks Bollywood releases, told Reuters.
“It will be a lost opportunity, and given how much Bollywood is struggling these days, it will hit where it hurts.”
The actor has two big films lined up for release this year – Kabir Khan’s “Bajrangi Bhaijaan” which releases in July on the Muslim festival of Eid, and Sooraj Barjatya’s “Prem Ratan Dhan Paayo“, which opens in cinemas on the Hindu festival of Diwali.
He has also committed to several other projects, including Karan Johar’s “Shuddhi”, Anees Bazmee’s “No Entry Mein Entry” and Ali Abbas Zafar’s “Sultan”. Khan’s manager declined to comment.
This is not the first time an Indian movie star faces time in prison. Khan spent nearly a week in prison in 2007 for shooting an endangered gazelle during a Rajasthan hunting trip in 1998. He is also out on bail for killing protected antelopes.
Actor Sanjay Dutt returned to prison in May 2013 to serve the remainder of a five-year sentence for firearms offences during the Mumbai bombings.
Shiney Ahuja, another Bollywood actor, was sentenced to seven years in prison in 2011 for raping his maid. He is out on bail.
A film industry source said Khan was wrapping up “Bajrangi Bhaijaan” in Kashmir, while filming for Barjatya’s movie is not yet complete.
“This last year-and-a-half has been terrible for Bollywood. They are struggling for ideas,” Kapoor said. “Salman Khan is one of the very few people whose films audiences look forward to.” – Reuters