The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Terror tag off' A nod
Crowd roars, actor quiet

Mumbai, Nov. 28: Posters of a khalnayak lined Mumbai’s streets when Sanjay Dutt was arrested on terror charges 13 years ago.

Today, a roar greeted the actor as he walked out of the Tada court, capturing his amazing makeover from Bollywood bad boy to loveable Munnabhai.

Hundreds flocked to Arthur Road jail’s narrow entrance as soon as news channels announced around 1 pm that the terror charges had been struck down. The scores of policemen tried to shoo them away, but the fans waited patiently for almost three hours for a glimpse of the hero of the day.

But Sanjay, except for a hint of a smile, remained impassive. He didn’t wave nor say anything. “Baba, baba,” the media cameramen pleaded, seeking a frontal shot. But the actor ignored them.

Asked if he was relieved that the “terrorist” tag was finally off, Sanjay just nodded.

He had been understandably tense the past few hours. Abandoning his “lucky” blue shirt and denims for a more colourful look, Sanjay was smoking furiously on the stairs of the first-floor courtroom when judge Pramod Kode took his chair at 11.35.

Apart from the seven co-accused, a handful of others kept Sanjay company in the enclosure.

For nearly an hour, Sanjay sat next to friend and co-accused Yusuf Nullwala without a word being exchanged. The mood turned grim when customs official Som Nath Thapa and Zaibunissa Kazi were convicted.

Then Kode announced the name of accused No. 117 and the room buzzed to life. Sanjay walked into the dock with his usual swagger, a gold locket visible through the partially unbuttoned shirt.

The actor looked dazed as Kode acquitted him of the terror charges. He sprang to life as the judge convicted him under the Arms Act.

Aware he could be taken into custody right away, Sanjay tried to attract Kode’s attention.

“I am the only earning person in my family…” he began, but the judge cut him short.

“When will you hear me for two minutes…” Sanjay pleaded.

Probably with Yakub Memon’s outburst on the first day of the verdicts in mind, Kode asked Sanjay’s lawyer Satish Maneshinde to move a written application instead. The court was adjourned for 10 minutes so the lawyer could draft an application.

Outside the courtroom, Sanjay was huddled with his lawyers when suddenly his body language changed as he saw a CBI official climb down the stairs. He rushed to the officer and greeted him respectfully.

“Tada nikal gaya (let off the terror charges)'” the official asked. Sanjay nodded and smiled.

After the court resumed, Maneshinde moved his plea asking for time to surrender citing the education and welfare of Sanjay’s daughter Trishala and his incomplete film projects. The grounds were not compelling, Kode said.

“The whole burden of the family is on me after my father’s death…. It’s a genuine problem,” Sanjay pleaded.

Dubbing the grounds “flimsy”, prosecutor Ujjwal Nikam said the court mustn’t be seen as treating “matinee idols differently”.

Sanjay stared at him, clearly annoyed. “Human grounds par maang rahe hain sir,” he said.

Munnabhai’s gentle prodding worked and the judge gave him three weeks, noting Sanjay had always abided by his directives.

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