Why Salman Khan will never be guilty in the eyes of his biggest fans

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May 7, 2015

MUMBAI – Salman Khan has today become the second leading Bollywood star in two years to be sentenced to a sizeable prison term, following his conviction for culpable homicide after a hit-and-run accident; this follows Sanjay Dutt’s imprisonment in 2013, also for five years, for illegal possession of weapons.

May 7, 2015

MUMBAI – Salman Khan has today become the second leading Bollywood star in two years to be sentenced to a sizeable prison term, following his conviction for culpable homicide after a hit-and-run accident; this follows Sanjay Dutt’s imprisonment in 2013, also for five years, for illegal possession of weapons.

Although Khan’s trial has been pending since 2002, producers took a gamble on his massive box-office pull, green lighting a string of movies in the intervening decade, and many of them now face significant losses. Khan is one of India’s most bankable stars, and since his debut in 1989’s Maine Pyar Kiya (I’ve Fallen in Love) he has regularly delivered some of the biggest hits of Hindi cinema (including Dabangg, Kick, Ready, Bodyguard). He has a large fanbase, but its core is considered to be made up of working-class Muslim males; many of his films are released to coincide with the Eid holiday.

In his films, Khan simply plays himself: an innocent guy, loyal to family and friends, big and brave-hearted, who will do anything for love. Initially a romantic hero (his characters were often called Prem (or “Love”), he evolved into one of the first muscle heroes, adding action to his repertoire; lately he has shown an aptitude for comedy, making him an all-rounder well suited to the mixed genres of Bollywood cinema.

Khan the star and the film hero are a conflation. His persona is one of instinctiveness and innocence, in which aberrations are considered “mistakes”. (In addition to the hit-and-run, which occurred in 2002, he has been prosecuted over hunting endangered wildlife, and his former partner, Aishwarya Rai, claimed that he harassed her.) His off-screen life is well known: 49 years old, never married, still living with his parents and brothers, fond of making extravagant gestures, he is the archetypal childlike guy.

This confusion of Salman the star with Salman the citizen is reflected in the refusal of his many fans to see him as guilty. Although the evidence presented by his lawyers was dismissed, his supporters are defending him vehemently on Twitter, shifting the blame for the accident to others, including those who failed to provide housing for the homeless people he ran over. Salman’s work for his Being Human charity is offered by his chamchas (“spoons, flatterers”) as if it were some sort of penance for youthful misdemeanors (he was 37 at the time of the accident). The film industry is supporting him as a friend, one of their leading stars and the son of a famous father, Salim Khan, writer of legendary films including Sholay.

What the prison sentence means for Salman’s career is not clear. Sanjay Dutt was allowed to complete his pending films before going to jail so Salman may hope to finish some of his. However, it looks unlikely that all this will end his career. If Salman repents publically, and makes more extravagant gestures, then the chances are he will be forgiven.


Courtesy: The Guardian