The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Saif caught in Salman net
- Charges to be framed against stars in black buck case

Feb. 20: The poaching net has been cast wider, snaring some of the hottest names in Bollywood.

A court has ordered that charges be framed against Saif Ali Khan, Salman Khan and three actresses in a case related to the killing of two black bucks in Jodhpur in 1998. The actresses are Tabu, Sonali Bendre and Neelam.

The order, which came a few days after Salman was sentenced to a year in jail for killing a chinkara in Jodhpur in the same year, has aggravated the concerns of the film industry which may now be forced to rework schedules to let the two busy stars juggle dates for hearings and shooting.

An immediate casualty could be a world tour planned by Saif. The stage shows scheduled for next month were supposed to bankroll his new house. After moving out of a bungalow owned by his estranged wife Amrita Singh, Saif and companion Rosa have been living in a rented house.

The Jodhpur magistrate has asked the accused, barring Salman, to be present in the court on February 27 for hearing the charges. The court has the power to ask the accused not to leave the country. If magistrate Dalpat Singh Rajpurohit chooses to do so, Saif’s tour will be in jeopardy.

The court directed framing of charges against Salman under section 148 of the Indian Penal Code relating to assembly with a deadly weapon, the Wildlife Protection Act and the Arms Act.

Charges against the remaining accused would be framed under Section 147 elating to unlawful assembly and under provisions of the Wildlife Protection Act and Section 149 (every member of unlawful assembly liable for prosecution for common offence).

The court exempted Salman from personal appearance on February 27 after his counsel Hastimal Sarswat filed a petition for absence.

According to the prosecution, the black bucks ' a protected species ' were killed during the filming of Hum Saath Saath Hain on October 1 and 2, 1998. The chinkara was also killed during the same film’s shooting.

While the court was giving nod to the framing of charges, Salman was spending the day at a farmhouse ' the actor’s refuge when in trouble. He had retreated to the farmhouse in Panvel, about 100 km from Mumbai, when his car ran over a person sleeping on a pavement and when transcripts of purported conversation between him and Aishwarya Rai were published.

With around Rs 150 crore riding on Salman, the industry is keeping close tabs on the legal tangle and many film-makers are on tenterhooks.

One film that runs the risk of getting affected if Salman suffers more legal setbacks is Babul. “It is tough to say right now whether Babul will be affected by all this. But I am making a back-up plan and will go ahead with scenes where Salman is not required.But I am sure Salman will come out of this unscathed,” said Ravi Chopra, the director of the film.

But the possibility of a lengthy trial and the option to appeal could avert any immediate threat to his career. “Although there is a lot of money at stake, it seems most likely that the matter will drag for years. Therefore there is no immediate threat to the films,” said Kumar Mohan, editor, Complete Cinema, a trade magazine.

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