MUMBAI (Reuters) - An Indian court sentenced Bollywood film star Salman Khan on Wednesday to five years in prison for killing a man in a hit-and-run accident, the latest twist in the tumultuous career of one of the country’s biggest box-office draws.
The district criminal court’s order drove down shares of firms connected to the actor and, if upheld, will derail major projects in the pipeline of what is the world’s most prolific movie industry.
Khan later secured two days of interim bail from Mumbai’s high court and will return to court on Friday for a hearing on having the bail extended.
The criminal court convicted Khan, 49, of culpable homicide on charges that he lost control of his white Toyota Landcruiser when driving under the influence of alcohol in 2002, and rammed into a group of people sleeping on a pavement.
Khan, instantly recognizable by his muscular build, denied being behind the wheel, contradicting 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.
“Finally, justice has been done,” said senior lawyer Abha 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.
Some fans and Bollywood celebrities came out in support of Khan, with one playback singer stoking controversy by likening the victim to a dog sleeping on a pavement.
“Roads footpath r not meant 4 sleeping, not driver’s or alcohol’s fault,” Abhijeet Bhattacharya tweeted.
Wearing a white shirt and blue jeans, Khan sweated heavily when the verdict was delivered amid a power cut at the criminal court. No emotion was evident on the face of Khan, one of Bollywood’s most bankable stars in a country where movie and cricket stars are hero-worshipped.
Khan’s portrayals of working class characters hold broad appeal for young audiences across India, who are drawn to his image of a bad boy with a heart of gold. Khan is a bachelor.
The news of his conviction led to a fall of 6 percent in shares of movie production and distribution firm Eros International, and a drop of 3 percent 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. (reut.rs/1KL49xN)
Reporting by Shilpa Jamkhandikar; Writing by Krishna N. Das; Editing by Frank Jack Daniel, Clarence Fernandez and Mark Heinrich