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Bollywood Star Sentenced To Prison In Hit-And-Run Case


It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.


And I'm David Greene. Salman Khan is one of the biggest movie stars in India. He played a police officer in a series of blockbuster action movies called "Dabangg."


SALMAN KHAN: (As Chulbul P. Pandey) (Speaking Hindi).

SANDIP ROY, BYLINE: I don't know who you would compare him to in Hollywood but perhaps a bit of Tom Cruise but with Arnold Schwarzenegger's muscles thrown in.

GREENE: OK. That gives us an image. That's morning edition commentator Sandip Roy who often opens a window on Indian culture, and he's been reflecting on the latest news about Salman Khan - his prison sentence. The star was given five years behind bars after being convicted in a hit-and-run.

ROY: In 2002, Salman Khan was accused of driving back from a party where he had apparently got very, very drunk and mowing into a group of homeless people who were sleeping on the sidewalk. And as a result, one of the persons who was sleeping died. Somebody else lost their leg. Others were injured. And then he's further accused of running away from the scene when he realized what had happened. And one of the eyewitnesses said that he was so drunk that he could barely stand up.

And it's worth noting about his fans that even the man who lost his leg in that accident has gone on record saying he bears him no ill will. He'd rather take compensation, and he still watches Salman Khan films.

GREENE: Was there a defense at all, I mean, as this case meandered through the legal system?

ROY: The main defense was he was not driving. His driver of 24 years came forward to take the blame, saying he was behind the wheel. The judge basically did not buy that argument. But after the verdict came out, the defense that's been put forward - and this was also heard during the case - was that Salman Khan - you know, whatever he's accused of - he's basically a good man. He has a nonprofit organization called Being Human that does philanthropic work. So all of his good works were being presented as if they, in any way, had anything to do with him being accused of drunk driving and mowing down people lying on the street.

GREENE: His defense was basically pointing out he's done wonderful things to society, and people should consider that as part of his trial.

ROY: Yes. And that defense seems to have been bought wholesale by a lot of his colleagues in the Bollywood film industry. If anything, David, this has shown the enormous gulf between the sort of moralistic scripts that Bollywood churns out, where the poor-but-righteous guy eventually wins against the evil, law-bending politician or Mafia don. They are happy to throw that script out of the window when it comes to one of their own.

GREENE: Sandip, I'm just struck by one thing you said a few minutes ago, that one of the victims who lost his leg in this accident was basically willing to forgive Salman Khan. What does that tell us about Indian society?

ROY: I think it tells us about a terribly skewed sense of celebrity worship and celebrity culture and how people are so enamored sometimes about a celebrity that they're willing to forgive even what seems to be the most blatant wrongdoings by that celebrity.

If you look at Salman Khan's resume, you know, he's in his late 40s, spent most of his 20s and 30s as a party animal. He is accused of hitting and harassing women, including ex-girlfriends. On the face of it, this would not be somebody anybody would want their daughters to marry, you know? He would be a no-go on a matrimonial site. But people adore him because he's a superstar and he's Salman Khan and he sometimes shakes his leg and dances for the masses.

GREENE: Sandip, thanks very much.

ROY: Thank you, David.


GREENE: Sandip Roy is a longtime commentator for MORNING EDITION. He is senior editor for the Indian publication Firstpost, and his new novel is called "Don't Let Him Know." This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm David Greene.

INSKEEP: And I'm Steve Inskeep. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.