A couple of years ago, Masala! had an opportunity to meet Salman Khan at an event. We were given strict instructions on what subjects to touch upon and (more importantly) what not to ask. In the few minutes we had with him, we realised why most scribes described him as an interviewer’s nightmare – he speaks only a few words, is sarcastic in his replies and can make you uncomfortable with his even stare. It was definitely not one of our best interactions.
But earlier this year, we met him again at the launch of a jewellery brand he had been signed up for and the story was entirely different! Salman was charming, funny, eager to chat and came up with smart, witty repartees to even the most banal questions. Bhai was in a good mood and it showed.
This Jekyll and Hyde personality pretty much sums up the core of Salman’s life. Perhaps there are no shades of grey in this superstar’s life. It’s either black or white; what you see is what you get with him. And this is what makes him infuriating and endearing in equal measure.
Every entertainment journalist worth his or his salt has a ‘Salman story’ to narrate. But while these stories may differ, there is one thing that has been constant in his turbulent life – the love of his fans and his affection for them. And that was the dilemma of the reaction to the sentence that was pronounced in the 2002 hit and run case last week – should we celebrate that justice was finally delivered to the victims of the accident regardless of the clout and popularity of the perpetuator or should the accused (Salman) be given a second chance in life, given his humanitarian work and attempts to redeem himself over the years?
Wish the answers were easy! Simply because, this has been the most complex case – legally, ethically and logically. We try to make sense of the past 13 year and the lead up to the biggest news headline of the year so far – Salman Khan found guilty!
THE CASE: SOME FACTS, SOME RUMOURS & SOME MANIPULATIONS
The details of the infamous hit and run have been played out too often to bear repetition here. What the world knows is this: Salman, in a state of inebriation, drove over people sleeping on the footpath of a bakery called the American Bakery on September 28, 2002, killing one person and injuring four others. The initial reports all held him responsible but what followed was a long haul in the courts. In tune with the tardy processes of the Indian judicial system, there were innumerable delays, witnesses turning hostile, judges changed, statements being altered, important papers went missing and the courts charging him under stricter provisions than those that were initially applied. One of the biggest twists in the case happened when a key witness and the police bodyguard the actor had been provided with, Ravindra Patil, who had filed the initial FIR (First Information Report) died of TB in a miserable state. His condition, exposed by a Mumbai tabloid, brought to light the fact that several key aspects of the case were not exactly what was being presented to the media. Were people being manipulated? What exactly happened that night? The questions were endless and the answers, zilch. As months passed and there were one delay after another, many felt this case would never reach its logical end and even if it did, Salman would get away, like most of the rich and powerful do. However, our sources say, the developments of the last couple of months, with new evidences presented and arguments being made, had changed the scene considerably. In fact, on judgement day, the prevailing mood in Bandra, the Mumbai suburb Salman resides in on judgement day, was that he would be found guilty. And that’s exactly what has happened.
There have been several whispers and rumours doing the rounds over the years about what exactly transpired that fateful night. A lady who is closely associated with the American Bakery, told our source that workers saw the car come crashing into them. And the whispers are that Salman was at the wheel. Such was the impact that the car came smashing inside though there was quite a distance between the road and the entrance of the bakery. The glass door of the bakery was shattered, the people who slept on the footpath were grievously injured but Salman ran off, probably in panic. Interestingly a lot of witnesses weren’t even called to depose though they had seen it all. Another source told us, “Salman and his family is much loved in this area, people here genuinely don’t want to see him harmed. There were workers from neighbouring stores too who saw the entire incident but the allegation is that a lot of them were paid off. That may or may not be true but people in Bandra genuinely don’t want to speak against him. They are very fond of Salman and his family, they feel while he has made a huge mistake, he is also a good human being who has helped the needy.”
Another version has been doing the rounds about what actually led to the accident. A controversial blog written by a journalist a couple of years ago detailed the lead up to the incident. It was alleged that after his break-up with a top actress, Salman went a bit off the handle. It was also the time when he had been receiving threats from the underworld and perhaps a combination of factors led him to lose control over himself. It’s now been established that Salman was driving the car at breakneck speed despite being warned by his aforementioned bodyguard (who was in the vehicle with him) against it.
What perhaps went against Salman in the verdict were his (rather, his lawyers’) alleged manipulations. The case of the missing bodyguard Ravindra Patil was a huge blow. But there were other accusations too. It was alleged that after the controversial blog appeared, the blogger received threats from Salman’s team and he was forced to pull his blog down. Only a few stray websites reported this.
Then the developments of the last few weeks perhaps went against him. Prime among this was the appearance of his mysterious driver who claimed it was he and not Salman who was driving the car. Similarly, Salman claimed he had not been drunk in the hotel (where he was seen prior the accident); rather, he had been only drinking water. Unfortunately for him, neither the court nor his fans bought this defence.
Ultimately, none of the ruse employed by his lawyers worked in his favour. The court found him guilty on all charges.
WHY THE WORLD IS DIVIDED
The facts are clear, the law has made its position clear but the verdict is not just a simple one of a guilty person being punished for his crime. Salman Khan is not an ordinary star. In fact, though Sanjay Dutt was equally popular and his die-hard fans supported him throughout his trial and incarceration, the support that Salman has seen is unprecedented. But there are a few minority voices who are questioning this blind faith in the star. The law has to prevail is the argument. But the sharp reactions are primarily because Salman is such a polarising figure. In the Salman world – there are two guys, polar opposites of each other.
THE GOOD GUY
His charity has been written innumerable times. But what’s great about Salman is that he is probably one of the few stars who does good deeds when the cameras aren’t around. Noted journalist Harneet Singh writes in her blog that once when she called him to get his opinion on protest against Shah Rukh Khan’s film My Name is Khan, he supported SRK strongly. This was the time when the two weren’t even on talking terms. Similarly, over the years, deliberately or otherwise, he has made an attempt to get rid of his bad boy image and let the world know about it. A man who claimed to have done his manicures for a while, was once quoted in an article as saying, “There is hardly another man in the industry who helps others as much as him. He connects with people because of his intrinsic goodness.” Just a few weeks ago, he supported a Kashmiri family when he got to know of their travails while he was on a shoot in Kashmir. Such stories are legendary.
His family man image is also very story. Singh writes that over the years, Salman had opened up to her and spoken about a lot of things but the only thing he guards fiercely is his family. A few months ago he allegedly took on the comedy group All India Bakchod (AIB) because they made some derogatory remarks against his sister Arpita.
His family, not surprisingly, has rallied around him and supported him through every controversy of his (and there have been plenty). His sisters Alvira and Arpita were present at every court hearing. Even on judgement day brothers Salman and Arbaaz were extremely protective about him. It was heard that his mother Salma took ill after hearing her son had been found guilty. His dad Salim who has endured much heartburn over the years has been a strong pillar of support.
THE BAD GUY
A great family guy, a messiah to his fans, a genuine do-gooder… there are several adjectives for Salman. But there are an equal number of negative stories about him as well. He has especially shared a love-hate relationship with the media with several scribes detailing how impolite he has been even without any provocation. A writer once said, “I had gone to interview him and I was pregnant at the time. He was smoking. I requested him to stop smoking as it was dangerous for my health. But he continued puffing away.”
Even the blogger who had detailed the case and was allegedly threatened had felt very vulnerable. So much so that he not only did he take down his blog but he actually apologised for it. Finally there are stories galore of his eccentricities and bizarre behaviour some of which are downright amusing. But that’s also part of the package called Salman – love him or hate him, that’s the way he is. His detractors point out that howsoever he may have redeemed himself, fact remains that he did manipulate the law, took advantage of the loopholes and tried tricks to avoid punishment.