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Salman Khan’s trial by fire: what’s at stake

A look at the troubled life of one of Bollywood’s biggest stars

Image Credit: AP
Salman Khan (centre) is surrounded by police officers outside court in October 2002.

A fatal accident more than 10 years ago has come back to haunt one of Bollywood’s biggest stars. Salman Khan, 47, will be tried for culpable homicide for his alleged involvement in an incident in Mumbai in 2002 which led to the death of one person and injury to three others. If convicted, Khan faces up to 10 years in jail.

The actor was earlier being tried for the lesser offence of causing death by negligence, which carries a maximum punishment of two years in jail.

But a court decision on Monday will come as a blow to the massive star, who, with 25 years in the industry, is a major box-office draw.

But why has it taken so long? And will this case lead to time in prison for the high-profile star, whose colleague, Sanjay Dutt, 53, began a five-year sentence on May 16 for his role in the Mumbai bombings 20 years ago?

tabloid! takes you back to the incident and looks at the troubled life of Khan, often referred to as Bollywood’s bad boy.

What actually happened?

In the early hours of September 28, 2002, Khan was allegedly driving home after a party at a nightclub in Mumbai when he rammed into a bakery in the city’s Bandra neighbourhood. One of the workers, who was sleeping on the pavement, was killed and three others were injured in the incident. Witnesses claimed that Khan, who was allegedly drunk, got out of the driver’s seat before speeding away.

He surrendered eight hours later and tests revealed he had 60mg of alcohol in his blood, which is beyond permissible limits for driving.

Khan was booked under Section 304 of the Indian Penal Code (culpable homicide not amounting to murder), which carries a punishment of jail time for up to 10 years. The charges included failure to take the injured to the hospital, driving without a licence and driving under the influence of alcohol — punishable under the Motor Vehicles Act — and of consuming liquor without a licence.

Following the charges, Khan challenged the decision before the Mumbai high court, which lowered the charge from to the less serious ‘causing death by rash and negligent act’. The latter charge carries a maximum punishment of two years in jail.

Now, the Mumbai metropolitan magistrate, after examining 17 witnesses, has transferred the case for re-trial by the session court on the charge of culpable homicide not amounting to murder. This means Khan could face 10 years in prison if found guilty.

Khan’s lawyer has opposed the magistrate’s order, saying it was “erroneous, bad in law and contrary to evidence on record”. The trial will begin on July 19. Khan’s Bollywood film fraternity remained silent on the issue on Tuesday.

Why has it taken so long?

The trial has seen multiple adjournments, excuses and counter-petitions and has now stretched on for more than a decade since it began in August 2004. The process has been slowed partly due to Khan’s counsel requesting the star not make personal appearances in the case.

According to The Daily Mail in 2006, the then additional chief metropolitan magistrate had reprimanded the prosecution for the excessively slow examination of witnesses.

By October 2006, the prosecution had examined only five witnesses. Two were being uncooperative, including Ravindra Patil, Khan’s police bodyguard, who died in 2007. By 2011, only 11 witnesses had been questioned out of the 64.

Patil, who died of tuberculosis, had earlier said that Khan was driving under the influence, despite being warned that it could be dangerous. When Patil became uncooperative, speculation was rife that he may have been pressured into retracting his statement.

The late Patil’s statements will likely come back to haunt Khan in the re-trial.

What’s at stake?

As one of Bollywood’s busiest stars with projects worth millions riding on him, Khan’s upcoming trial could put a dampener on his career and the industry. Mental, directed by his brother Sohail Khan and extensively shot in Dubai, is currently under production. The action film, originally scheduled for release later this year, has been pushed back to January next year.

Kick, another action film, which will see producer Sajid Nadiadwala make his debut as a director, was scheduled to begin filming next month. Khan has also signed up for the sequel to the 2005 hit comedy No Entry called No Entry Mein Entry and a film by Suraj Barjatya, who directed the 1989 hit Maine Pyar Kiya, which turned the actor into an overnight star.

Khan’s last film, Dabangg 2, which was released in December 2012, earned more than $10 million (Dh36.7 million) in its opening week and became the third-highest-grossing Bollywood film of all time. The film was a sequel to Dabangg (2010), which saw Khan play a Robin Hood-style cop.

Other scandals

It’s no secret that Khan and controversy go hand in hand. In 1998, during filming of the blockbuster Hum Saath Saath Hain in the north Indian city of Jodhpur in Rajasthan, Khan and co-stars Saif Ali Khan, Sonali Bendre and Tabu were accused of poaching endangered black bucks. The case, which is now 15 years old, is still ongoing. In May, the trial was suspended as the witnesses failed to appear.

In 2010, just before his hit film Dabangg released, Khan’s comments about the 26/11 terror attacks in Mumbai caused an outcry all over India. His remarks that the Pakistani government was not involved in the attack and that the coverage was hyped because “elite people were targeted” did not go down well. Khan later apologised.

That same year, a fisherman in Mumbai’s suburb Bandra complained to the police that the star and his bodyguards were harassing him and his family.

The fisherman claimed that the star’s bodyguards had forced him to move his boat and fishing nets since they blocked the view from the actor’s home.

Lawrence Falcon was quoted by Mid-Day saying he registered three formal complaints but the police only registered a non-cognisable offence case, which meant that an arrest warrant couldn’t be issued without a court order.

Khan is also notorious for his problems with anger management. Perhaps one of the most tumultous and well-documented relationships in Bollywood is his relationship with actress and former Miss World Aishwarya Rai bachchan. Unlike their romance in the hit Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam, their off-screen relationship wasn’t picture-perfect, marred by public fights and alleged physical abuse.

According to reports, Rai’s parents filed a police complaint in 2000 accusing Khan of stalking their daughter, threatening her and trying to forcefully enter their household. In 2002, the scandal hit an all-time high when Khan stormed the set of Chalte Chalte, which starred Rai, and allegedly pushed her to the ground.

Following the on-set drama, Rai, who married actor Abhishek Bachchan in 2007, was later dumped from the film. The pair finally broke up in 2002.

But Khan didn’t take it lying down. The actor allegedly threatened Rai’s rumoured boyfriend Vivek Oberoi, who promptly called a press conference accusing Khan of being high-handed.

Though the stars have moved on, Rai Bachchan in an interview with Times Of India that same year said: “After we broke up, he would call me and talk rubbish. He also suspected me of having affairs with my co-stars. I was linked with everyone, from Abhishek to Aamir to Shah Rukh. There were times when Salman got physical with me, luckily without leaving any marks. And I would go to work as if nothing had happened.”

The sordid episode didn’t reform Khan. In 2009, it was widely reported he slapped his then-girlfriend Katrina Kaif at a coffee shop in Mumbai.