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TIGER CAGED

The conviction of Salman Khan in the blackbucks case comes as a surprising twist in the drama that is the top Bollywood actor’s life. The hero has been painted as a villain

The tiger is still alive but now caged. Like his role in “Ek Tha Tiger” (2012) and its sequel “Tiger Zinda Hai” (2017), Salman Khan will not walk free any more, although the swagger will probably remain, as fans among jailers line up to have a glimpse of one of the three iconic Khans of Bollywood.

The court acquitted his colleagues Saif Ali Khan, Tabu, Neelam and Sonali Bendre and a local, Dushyant Singh, giving them the “benefit of doubt”. The actor shot and killed two blackbucks, from the antelope family, in Kankani village near Jodhpur on the night of October 1, 1998 during the shooting of the blockbuster “Hum Saath Saath Hain”. Thus it has taken 20 years for our notoriously slow judicial system to finally deliver a verdict.

The courtroom drama does not end here. As the sentence is more than three years, Salman can appeal in a higher court for bail. Under Section 9/51 of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, he faced a maximum punishment of six years behind bars.

The 52-year-old actor has been to Jodhpur Central Jail before, and it was not for a shoot. He had earlier spent a total of 18 days in the jail in 1998, 2006 and 2007, all for cases of poaching. Here he might run into Asaram Bapu, another famous inmate.

The law has taken its course, impervious to political connections. Politician-turned-actor Bina Kak is close to Salman Khan’s family. Bina Kak entered politics in the early 1980s as a member of the Congress Party. In 1985, as part of Rajiv Gandhi’s efforts to inject new talent into the party, she began at the grassroots level as a Congress worker. She later played Salman’s mother in a handful of films, and her daughter Amrita Jhunjhunwala sang popular songs such as ‘Just chill’, ‘Dhinka chika’ and ‘Character dheela’ for Khan’s films.

Public perceptions matter, and have an impact on box office collections. Salman’s bad boy image was countered by his setting up a charity ‘Being Human’, reportedly on the advice of his lawyers. Similarly, Kak may have been the minister of state for tourism and cultural affairs of Rajasthan from 1998 to 2003, when the blackbucks were shot. But as forest minister in 2011, she was instrumental in converting Kumbhalgarh sanctuary into a national park. In 2013, Bina played a key role in getting Mukandara Hills notified as third tiger reserve after Ranthambore and Sariska. She also wrote a book Silent Sentinels of Ranthambore.

From the tiger reserve in Ranthambore to Jodhpur is a mere 450 km. Here the caged tiger will have adequate time to reflect on his brushes with the law, that is, if he doesn’t get bail soon and be back in the bosom of his adoring family. The general public is reflecting too. As somebody wrote on Twitter, “Blackbucks have better luck than pavement dwellers in getting justice in this country”. The reference is to Khan’s acquittal in the case of a homeless man being run over by his Land Cruiser while driving drunk in Mumbai. He was convicted in 2002, went in appeal, and was surprisingly acquitted in 2015.

Bollywood producers are now an endangered species, especially those in the middle of shoots with the dependable star. They will face a heavy loss, calculated by the trade as Rs 400-600 crore, as movies under production go for a six. He is the protagonist in “Race 3”, parts of which still remain to be shot. Then there are “Dabangg 3” and “Kick 2”.

The actor has come a long way since his first hit (not with a car or gun), “Maine Pyar Kiya”. It is now a part of film lore that Sooraj Barjatiya rejected Salman Khan during the first audition, as he looked too small. The film was dubbed in English as “When Love Calls” and was a big hit in the Caribbean: Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago. The film was also dubbed in Spanish as “Te Amo”, and had a 10-week run in Lima, Peru.

He has also had a good run on television as the host of “Big Boss”, which is mistakenly called Reality TV. But now that reality has struck, age has caught up, the hero has been declared a villain by the judiciary, what next? The show will certainly go on, in full public glare.