Mumbai, Sept. 2: Strange are the ways of stars.
Consider this: a star, a superstar really in the galaxy called Bollywood, is awaiting trial, charged with culpable homicide not amounting to murder for running away after his Land Cruiser mowed down and killed a man in 2002.
Eleven years on, his friend — also a Bollywood star — is helping the family of another hit-and-run victim get justice.
Suniel Shetty has stepped forward to help police crack the July 21 accident that killed Vishal Shah, a budding scriptwriter with Bollywood dreams.
Shah, 26, was killed when a speeding Audi Q5 smashed into him as he hunched behind his car trying to change a flat tyre.
“He was working on a script for me. The next I know, he has been mowed down by a car on the Bandra Worli Sealink. I could not but help step in,” Shetty, who has been meeting top Mumbai cops and politicians to track down Vishal’s killer, told The Telegraph.
He had met Vishal just a couple of times.
Shetty, who won a Filmfare Award for best villain for his performance in Dhadkan, didn’t shy away from the 2002 hit-and-run case that has embroiled his friend Salman Khan.
Salman had surrendered to police eight hours after his Land Cruiser ran over Nurullah Sharif, a day labourer sleeping on the pavement, very near the spot where Vishal died.
“If he had taken them to a hospital instead of running away, he would not have had to face such serious charges today,” Shetty said.
Had Salman surrendered then, he might have got away with lesser charges.
“Salman is a wonderful person, the most generous and good-hearted guy I know. Yet, a momentary weakness has led him to this situation. There is a lesson in it for everyone.”
If Salman is living that lesson today, his friend has weighed in with all his star power to help Vishal’s family. Among those following the case are Mohan Azaad, the national award-winning scriptwriter of Chandni Bar, and actor Nasir Khan.
Vishal, a protégé of Azaad, was just 50 metres from the Bandra Worli Sealink when the Maruti Esteem he was driving had a flat tyre near Bandra Reclamation.
“It was around 3.30 in the morning and Vishal had taken his friend Siddharth, who had come down from Australia, for a spin around the city. Neither of them was drunk. They thought the early hour would be good as they wouldn’t face any traffic,” Azaad said.
Siddharth has told the police that as Vishal was trying to change the tyre, a speeding car rammed into his friend, throwing him nearly 20ft from the spot.
“Vishal was alive even then. Siddharth called the police emergency number. The cops were there in 10 minutes but, by then, Vishal was no more. If the person whose car hit Vishal had taken the trouble to take him to Lilavati Hospital, just three minutes away, the boy would have lived,” said television actor Iqbal Khan.
The only son of his parents, Vishal was the family’s breadwinner.
“While Siddharth was speaking to the cops, the driver of another car passing by told them he had seen an Audi Q5 idling a little away in a lane. But the police took no cognisance,” said entertainment anchor and actor Nasir Khan.
Nasir, Shetty, Mohan and Iqbal have given the police a list of all Audi dealers in and around Mumbai. “I wonder how many Audi Q5s are there in Mumbai that even after a month the police can’t find the car, that too when the car’s headlight was smashed in the impact,” Azaad said.
The four have also approached the area’s Congress MP, Sanjay Dutt’s sister Priya Dutt.
DCP Vishwas Nagre Patil, who fought terrorists during the 26/11 attacks, said: “We have got all the registration details of Audi Q5s in the city and are going around questioning their owners…. We will get to the killers soon.”
Shetty had just one advice: don’t run when you hit someone. “You will save a life,” he said. “If that is not good enough for you, then remember that you will at least not be a killer in the eyes of the law.”