“Chal mere bhai, chal mere bhai…” (come with me brother, come with me brother) – this peppy number from a blockbuster 90s Bollywood film, titled, ‘Chal Mere Bhai’ which saw a sober and dutiful, big brother Sanjay Dutt (himself in jail now) imploring his onscreen younger brother, the very drunk Salman Khan, a.k.a “Sallu bhai”, to come with him, could’ve had the cops singing it to him now. “Chal mere bhai, chal mere bhai…”, as they would take away Sallu bhai to the ‘clink’ for his 1,825-day jail term.
Had it not been for his lawyers who appealed to the High Court within just minutes of the Mumbai Sessions Court’s ruling of culpable homicide, giving Salman Khan a five-year jail sentence, the above scenario could have been a very real one – for his fans, and for Sallu bhai, more importantly. “You were driving the car; you were under the influence of alcohol,” the Mumbai Sessions Court judge told the 49 year old Bollywood superstar within moments of him entering the courtroom. These legal proceedings were for the 2002 hit and run case. Wee hours into the night of 28 September 2002, Salman Khan, heavily intoxicated at the wheel of his Toyota Land Cruiser lost control of the car, hitting the American Express Bakery in the Bandra area of Mumbai.
His vehicle then ran over five homeless pedestrians sleeping on the pavement, killing a man and injuring four others. The actor then fled the scene, allegedly. He later told the sessions court, during court proceedings, that not him but his driver was driving the SUV that caused that terrible tragedy. Guilty on the charge of culpable homicide. Also guilty of negligent driving and causing grievous harm to the victims, Salman Khan was given separate terms for each offence. “The court hereby sentences you to five years in jail.” – thirteen years to that tragic night, the fate of the superstar was spoken out to him in plain, impassive words. His shrewd stream of lawyers immediately got down to doing what lawyers do best – submitting an application for appeal to the High Court against the above ruling.
The High Court suspended his sentence, setting the date of his case proceedings for June 2015, and before you knew it, Sallu bhai was showing signs of life again, as opposed to earlier when he came out of the courtroom sullen, stoic and stone-faced. Only a few years back, another immensely popular Bollywood actor, Sanjay Dutt, also called ‘bhai’, rather ‘Munna bhai’, was arrested under the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities Act (TADA) and then convicted in 2013 for the illegal possession of firearms relating to the 1993 Mumbai blasts case. Sentenced to five years in jail, Sanjay Dutt is currently serving out his sentence.
And now it is his on-screen bhai (brother), Sallu bhai who is in and out of courtrooms in an effort to save himself jail time. Salman Khan is undisputedly the most popular actor in India who enjoys stupendous success and the love, rather unceasing reverence, of millions of his fans. This Khan even surpasses the other two in being the most bankable star of the Indian film industry, with almost all his films scorching cash registers and raking in those big bucks, in the league of Rupees 200 to 300 crores per film.
Not only in India but this larger than life personality is loved all over the world, including the MiddleEast where his ever-swelling fanbase swears by him. “He is my favorite actor. My friends and I see Bollywood films only of Salman Khan. His films are so colorful and shiny….just like gold, you know!” says Dana, a Kuwaiti university student. But, as they say, ‘all that glitters is not gold’. The Sallu bhai of the world has a dark side as well, with his life marred by numerous controversies over the years… A few of his former female friends had accused him of abusive behavior. Then, in 1998, on a hunting trip with some friends, he allegedly killed two black bucks – an endangered species.
The 1998 blackbuck poaching case is still ongoing! And then, in 2002, he was at the center of this hit and run case, for which he was sentenced in the Mumbai Sessions Court in May 2015, and which he has appealed against in the High Court. Well, Sallu bhai sure takes the ‘bad boy’ image to a whole new level, doesn’t he? But flip that coin and people vouch for Sallu bhai who is considered one of the finest people in the film industry, and who goes out of his way to help others, even giving failed actors and actresses, whom no one from the film industry would touch with a barged pole, a chance in his films.
Not to mention his ‘Being Human’ Foundation, which supports the underprivileged and impoverished people of India through education, housing and healthcare initiatives. Speculation was rife regarding the fate of those five big banner film projects that Salman Khan is currently involved in. Giving the producers of these high-profile films sleepless nights is the fact that in excess of Rupees 200 crores are riding on the superstar. With the High Court hearing a whole month away, Sallu bhai and his producers can heave a collective sigh of relief, at least for now. Much to their delight, Sallu bhai has resumed shooting for their films.
He is free and goes about life normally, which is more than I can say for the victims of that fateful night of September 2002. No respite yet in sight for them, monetarily or otherwise, “Justice Delayed is Justice Denied” is an adage that continues to play out in their lives, day in and day out.
- Shireen Passi Chopra