Bajrangi Bhaijaan Salman Khan’s conviction in the blackbuck case has shocked his fans and members of Bollywood.
A Jodhpur session court sentenced the Tiger Zinda Hai actor to five years imprisonment for killing two blackbucks, ending the 20-year-old case that began with a late night safari outside Jodhpur in October 1998 on the sidelines of the shoot of Hum Saath-Saath Hain.
The court, however, acquitted other co-stars who were with him – Saif Ali Khan, Tabu, Neelam and Sonali Bendre – giving them the "benefit of doubt."
Besides attracting attention due to Salman's popularity, the case also caught the nation's imagination because it was the first time that five actors were involved in a single case.
Blackbuck, from the antelope family, is an endangered animal and included in Schedule-I of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972.
The verdict triggered a deluge of sympathy for the "bad boy" of Bollywood, whose career and personal life have been peppered with controversies, including a manslaughter charge in a hit-and-run case that is still pending.
Film Fraternity Shocked and Disappointed
Salman's friends in the industry expressed concern over the verdict, with some saying the actor was punished harshly for his star status.
"I feel bad. He should be given relief. He has done a lot of humanitarian work," actor-politician Jaya Bachchan told reporters outside Parliament in New Delhi.
Neelam's husband, actor-director Samir Soni said he was happy for his wife, but he believed Salman had been targeted for his star status.
We are happy for us, but we are disappointed for Salman Khan. Justice has not been given properly in this case.Sameer Soni, actor
However, members of the Bishnoi community and animal rights activists welcomed the sentencing, and said that though it took a while, justice had been served.
Anxious Fans Question: Why Have Four Others Been Acquitted?
Salman Khan’s legion of fans tuned to social media and television, and trade analysts watched the screen with anxiously to know the fate of the star who has an estimated Rs 600 crore riding on his next ventures – Race 3, Bharat, and Dabang 3.
His unhappy fans called the judgment unconvincing, since four other actors charged had been acquitted. Even Twitter saw mixed reactions. While some hailed the verdict, others questioned it.
Jail sources said Salman has been lodged in barrack number 2 in a heavily protected and secure cell. He will have to spend at least one night in jail until his bail hearing on 6 April.
(With inputs from PTI)