By Shilpa Jamkhandikar
An Indian court on Wednesday sentenced Bollywood film star Salman Khan to five years in prison, for killing a man in a hit-and-run accident, the latest twist in the tumultuous career of a hero of India’s silver screen.
The sentencing drove down shares of firms connected to the actor and, if upheld, will derail major projects in the pipeline of the world’s most prolific movie industry.
The Mumbai court convicted Khan, 49, of culpable homicide on charges that he lost control of his Toyota Landcruiser when driving under the influence of alcohol in 2002, and rammed into a group of people sleeping on a pavement.
Khan, instantly recognisable by his muscular build, denied being behind the wheel, despite the testimony of several witnesses. In March, the actor’s driver said he had driven, while Khan rode in the passenger seat.
In his verdict, Judge D.W. Deshpande said Khan had in fact been driving the car. Khan can appeal against the judgment, but would be taken to jail directly from the court, senior lawyer Abha Singh told reporters after the sentencing.
“Finally, justice has been done,” said Singh, a petitioner in the case. “The law has been upheld.”
The decision dispelled the idea that India is a country where people with money and power can commit murder and get away with it, Singh added.
Television channels have reported the Bombay High Court is to hear Khan’s appeal for bail later on Wednesday.
Khan, one of Bollywood’s most bankable stars, along with Shah Rukh Khan and Aamir Khan, has drawn viewers to some of the industry’s highest-grossing films.
His portrayals of working class characters hold broad appeal for young audiences across India.
The news led to a fall of 5 per cent in shares of movie production and distribution firm Eros International, and a drop of 4 per cent in shares of textile company Mandhana Industries.
Eros had acquired global distribution rights for two of Khan’s upcoming movies, while Mandhana worked with his foundation to design and distribute the “Being Human” clothing range.
The conviction is not Khan’s first brush with the law. In 2007, he was jailed for nearly a week for shooting an endangered gazelle on a hunting trip in the desert state of Rajasthan. He is also on bail in a case over the killing of protected antelopes.
Two of Khan’s big films were lined up for release this year – director Kabir Khan’s Bajrangi Bhaijaan and Prem Ratan Dhan Paayo, directed by Sooraj Barjatya.