Tiger tamed by deer
On Thursday, when Salim Khan left for his daily walk around 7.30 am, he had his usual knot of friends with him. But it was discernibly a bigger group that set off - along with security personnel. That itself indicated that Galaxy Apartments would soon be under media and public siege as Salman's infamous blackbuck case was heard a couple of hours later by the chief judicial magistrate (CJM) in Jodhpur.
While opinions on the five-year sentence will vary according to people's proximity to the Khan family, there is a familiar pattern. A lower court passes a sentence. It's followed by bail, then appeals and a final acquittal. So, like no one drove Salman Khan's car when it ran over workers sleeping on the pavement, will the conclusion be that no one killed the black deer too? One won't know the answer until many more years elapse as appeals will go on till kingdom come. But by postponing his verdict to after lunch, the CJM did ensure that it'd be too late for Salman to get instant bail and would have to spend at least Thursday night in a Jodhpur jail. Chalo, so a token example has been made out of sentencing and sending a celebrity to jail.
In the meantime, will there be repercussions on his career or his popularity? The answer to that is a resounding "No". His career will go on unaffected. There are at least three big films ready to roll with him in the vanguard. Race 3, in which he replaced Saif Ali Khan, is already underway. It's a project that looks like something put together by Salman himself with favourites like Jacqueline Fernandes and the otherwise-out-of-work Daisy Shah in it. It's also a big break for Saqib Saleem, better known as Huma Qureshi's brother. Huma, as most people in the film industry know, has a special equation with Salman's brother, Sohail. There's also Bobby Deol in Race 3 and one hears it was Salman who told him to take care of his body and that he'll then take care of him. Bobby has also been accommodated in the next edition of Housefull, which is produced by Sajid Nadiadwala who, as everyone knows, is one of Salman's closest buddies. Together, Sajid and Salman will do Kick 2 soon.
Therefore, Bobby has now become a staunch Salman loyalist.
There's also Dabangg 3 on the anvil, which will be helmed by his Wanted director, Prabhudhevaa.
And there's the really ambitious Bharat, which will be directed by Ali Abbas Zafar of Tiger Zinda Hai fame. Loyalties are always rewarded by Salman.
By the way, one of his firm supporters and family friend is politician Bina Kak, who played his wacky mother in Maine Pyar Kyun Kiya. With Congress links, Bina wields much influence in Rajasthan.
As for his popularity, 20 years is a long time and as it happened in the case of the 58-year-old actor who's still known as Sanju Baba, there are many who feel Salman has already gone through enough trauma and thus has paid for his misdeeds. Also, we are notoriously known for making even bigger heroes of those convicted, with the sympathy factor kicking in.
Take for instance, the continued popularity of Sanjay Dutt. Right now, he's hopping mad and looking for legal options against an unauthorised biography on him authored by journalist Yasser Usman. The inside news is that yet another unauthorised biography on him was commissioned by another publishing house and that, too, will be rolled out soon. All this when his own autobiography had publishers tripping over each other to bag the rights. Meanwhile, Raju Hirani's authorised biopic, Dutt, will be released this year. Which means, all year round, it's going to be tut-tut, it's Dutt again.
And if Sanju enjoys that kind of popularity after serving a sentence for a far more serious charge, an immensely popular star who's currently ruling the box office will only emerge stronger from this conviction. Salman is far from finished.
Bharathi S. Pradhan is a senior journalist and author