New Delhi: Bollywood’s bad boy Salman Khan finally ran out of luck on Thursday when a Jodhpur court convicted him in the 20-year-old blackbuck poaching case, sentencing him to five years’ imprisonment and a fine of Rs10,000.
Khan and fellow actors Saif Ali Khan, Tabu, Neelam Kothari and Sonali Bendre had been charged with killing two blackbucks while shooting for family drama Hum Saath-Saath Hain in Rajasthan in 1998. All the other accused have been acquitted.
The blackbuck, or Indian antelope, is a protected animal.
To be sure, Khan has signalled his intention to appeal the black poaching case verdict in a higher court.
The 52-year-old actor has been embroiled in many legal cases. But, riding high on the Rs339 crore collections of his last release Tiger Zinda Hai, the third biggest Hindi film blockbuster of all time, there are no questions about his box-office viability.
“There is no doubt that he is the most bankable star in Bollywood at the moment," said Atul Mohan, editor of trade magazine Complete Cinema. Khan’s slate of upcoming projects is nothing short of extraordinary—action flick Race 3, scheduled for this Eid, the third instalment of the Dabangg series, scheduled for December, his next with Tiger Zinda Hai director Ali Abbas Zafar titled Bharat, scheduled for release at Eid 2019, and a sequel to his 2014 blockbuster Kick, lined up for a December 2019 release.
“Given his average box office earnings of Rs250 crore per film, that would make for Rs1,000 crore at this very moment," Mohan said.
Then there’s television: Khan’s immediate project right now is a reprise of his popular game show on Sony Entertainment Television, Dus Ka Dum, which is scheduled to air in June. With his fee of around Rs3 crore per episode and additional production costs, the show carries an investment of about Rs4 crore per episode and would incur huge losses if Khan were to become unavailable.
Sony did not respond to Mint’s queries.
Khan’s box-office status may remain untarnished by case verdicts, but experts said his massive fan following has not translated into the number of brands a star of his stature would endorse. Currently commanding anything between Rs5 crore and Rs10 crore for a two-year contract, Khan endorses brands such as edible oil Himani Best Choice for the Emami Group, security, surveillance solution provider CP Plus and innerwear company Dixcy.
Brand experts said the immediate effect would be on these deals since most brands would not want to associate with a star—howsoever big—who is in serious legal trouble and elicits polarizing opinion.
“It’s a governance issue so there will be some degree of precaution from international companies with global headquarters," said Vijay Subramaniam, co-chief executive, Kwan Entertainment.
As cases of celebrities like golfer Tiger Woods and cricketer David Warner show, many brands withdraw contracts after scandals.
Emami declined to comment on the story while Dixcy and CP Plus did not respond to Mint’s queries. “There is no surprise element to the verdict, it’s everything people already knew and so there is unlikely to be a decline in brand equity," said Saurabh Uboweja, international brand expert and chief executive officer of brand consultancy firm Brands Of Desire.
The hardcore mass brand of Khan that appeals strongly to people living in tier-II and tier-III cities is unlikely to be affected by this. “He may, however, not be able to able to fully exploit this equity because no brand would want to legally associate with a proven criminal. All of this, despite the good Samaritan image he has acquired through his charitable organization Being Human," Uboweja said.
Messages sent to Khan’s brothers, Arbaaz and Sohail, for this story remained unanswered till the time of publishing this article.