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Business News/ Opinion / The Salman Khan myth
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The Salman Khan myth

The verdict that convicts the star shatters the paradox that fans have entrenched him in

Salman Khan represents an idea that a powerful, fallen man can also be a champion. This verdict makes him just a guilty man, just an accused in a court of law. Photo: HTPremium
Salman Khan represents an idea that a powerful, fallen man can also be a champion. This verdict makes him just a guilty man, just an accused in a court of law. Photo: HT

Because of a mythical status that Salman Khan enjoys, Wednesday’s court verdict, which convicts him in a hit-and-run case, is historic. He is guilty of culpable homicide not amounting to murder.

It is not the end of the road, of course. If he appeals to the high court and the high court accepts his bail application, Khan gets another chance. As in the Sanjay Dutt case, the verdict sends out the message that the justice system is above stardom and public idols.

On 28 September 2002, around 3am, Salman Khan’s Toyota Land Cruiser rammed into the American Express Bakery on Hill Road, Bandra. One pavement dweller sleeping outside the bakery was killed and four others were injured. He fled the accident site. Later that morning, Bandra Police arrested him. The trial has lasted 13 years, during which many witnesses turned hostile, the main witness died, and finally a long-time employee of the star, a driver, told the court it was he who was driving the car (see timeline).

This is a stellar verdict that sends out the right messages. But besides its implications in the justice system, the verdict brings into limelight, once again, what the Salman Khan myth is all about. Outside of the film screen where he can do no wrong, and outside of the Hindi film industry, for which he generates a lot of money and in turn, employment (around 200 crore is at stake in the two films in which Khan is currently cast as the lead star, Sooraj Barjatya’s Prem Ratan Dhan Payo and Kabir Khan’s Bajrangi Bhaijaan), the Salman Khan phenomenon rides on a paradox created by his fans and possibly also the media—that he is rich but compassionate, reckless but goodhearted, ruled by unbridled emotion, and that he always means well. It is a farcical and solipsistic assumption, symptomatic of fandom that extrapolates the worst of melodrama we see in Hindi films to the real life of one of its biggest stars, also one of its most inept actors.

I remember being stuck in an unending traffic snarl on Linking Road, Bandra, one of Mumbai’s main arterial roads, the day a retail outlet of Salman Khan’s brand of clothes and accessories, Being Human, was being officially launched. The star was present, and people passing by, left their cars and two-wheelers to get a glimpse of him. Auto rickshaw drivers stopped in glee. The huge swell of fans around the store’s steps was uncontrollable. This is just one instance. Fans huddle outside his home in Bandra West at all times. Obviously, the admiration and love that Salman Khan enjoys from his fans is stupendous. If you go by the box office figures of his films, his fandom spreads to all of India and all classes of people. In my understanding, the Salman Khan fan base is mainly a large section of unemployed male youth from low-income families who you are likely to see speeding on bikes in groups. To this group, he is a champion, perhaps even a mahatma. There may be allegations of girlfriend beating and violent brawls against him, he may have rammed a sleeping man to his death, but ideas of crime, sin or redemption do not apply to bhai. Philanthropy, a common virtue of the rich the world over, becomes his luminous predication.

Salman Khan represents an idea that a powerful, fallen man can also be a champion. This verdict makes him just a guilty man, just an accused in a court of law.

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Published: 06 May 2015, 12:37 PM IST
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