NEW DELHI (Reuters) - India’s Supreme Court on Wednesday gave Bollywood actor Sanjay Dutt four more weeks of freedom before he needs to return to jail to serve the rest of his prison term, in a case linked to bombings in the Indian financial capital in 1993.
Dutt, popular for his role as a do-good gangster in the “Munnabhai” films, was sentenced to six years in jail in 2007 for acquiring illegal weapons from men convicted for the attacks that killed 257 people, but has been out on bail ever since.
In March, the Supreme Court rejected the 53-year-old actor’s final appeal against his conviction but reduced his sentence to five years and ordered him to return to prison on or before April 18, a decision that Dutt said left him “shattered.”
On Wednesday, the Supreme Court gave a four-week reprieve to the actor, who had wanted to defer his sentence to finish some Bollywood films.
Projects worth 2.5 billion rupees ($46 million) and the fate of several Bollywood movies hang in the balance with Dutt heading back to jail.
“(He has) four weeks from tomorrow to surrender,” Dutt’s lawyer, Harish Salve, told Reuters in a text message.
The actor has at least four films in the pipeline, including “Peekay”, “Policegiri”, “Unglee” and a remake of the 1973 hit “Zanjeer”. Dutt was also due to reprise his role in a third “Munnabhai” film later this year.
“He is thankful, but he is still under pressure as to how he can finish six months of work in a month,” said Rahul Aggarwal, the producer of “Policegiri”.
But legal experts said it was possible Dutt could seek yet another deferral.
“Nothing prevents him from approaching the Supreme Court (again),” noted lawyer Majid Memon told NDTV television channel. “We’ll have to wait after four weeks if he has some more compelling grounds.”
Dutt had already spent 18 months in prison before being released on bail, so he will have to serve another 3-1/2 years.
The actor was the most high profile of 100 people involved in the Mumbai bombings trial, which ended in 12 people receiving the death penalty and lifetime sentences for others.
In 2007, Dutt was cleared of conspiracy charges in the attacks, but found guilty of illegal possession of an AK-56 rifle and a pistol, which he claimed he required to protect himself and his family during a period of rioting in Mumbai.
Reporting by Shilpa Jamkhandikar and David Lalmalsawma; Editing by Tony Tharakan and Elaine Lies