India

Salman Khan: The superstar who lives dangerously

Salman Khan Image copyright AFP
Image caption Salman Khan is one of India's most bankable stars

Bollywood superstar Salman Khan, who has been handed a five-year jail term for poaching a rare antelope nearly 20 years ago, is controversy's favourite child.

The actor has often been found on the wrong side of law - besides being found guilty of killing protected animals, he was accused in 2002 of running over five homeless men in Mumbai, killing one of them. He's also been accused of assaulting former girlfriends and generally being misogynistic.

But Khan is also one of India's biggest and most popular film stars.

The 52-year-old actor has starred in nearly 100 Hindi-language films, is known for his romantic roles as well as action films, and has won several prestigious Indian cinema awards.

He is that rare Bollywood star who has a huge fan following across the vast spectrum of Indian society - his fans include the middle-class English-speaking audiences as well as poor slum dwellers for whom the 350-rupee ($5.20; £3.40) tickets do not come cheap.

His films are released to coincide with major festivals like Eid or Christmas, and are screened in thousands of theatres which are generally packed for days.

Every time Khan romances his heroines on screen, his fans respond with approval. Loud whistles fill the theatre when he shows his dance moves, and resounding claps encourage him whenever he beats up the "baddies".

Courting controversy

But his fame has brought with it a long-held image of a larger-than-life macho superstar who lives dangerously.

Despite the controversies and accusations of bad behaviour, Khan's fan base has remained loyal - in fact, it has kept growing steadily and the hits have kept coming.

Several of his latest films - Tiger Zinda Hai, Sultan, Prem Ratan Dhan Payo, Bajrangi Bhaijaan, Dabangg and Dabangg2 - have been huge blockbusters.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Khan is often seen as a macho superstar who lives dangerously

Khan has hosted most of the 11 seasons of Bigg Boss, the Indian version of the Dutch reality TV show Big Brother and it remains popular because of him.

And he is a hit on social media too - his Facebook page is liked by 36 million fans while on Twitter he has 32.5 million followers.

But there is another side to Khan, the eldest of the three sons of well-known screenplay writer Salim Khan.

Stories about his brawls at parties have long filled the Bollywood gossip columns, and his link-ups with some of his leading ladies have also proved controversial.

In one notorious incident, an angry Khan was reported to have emptied a bottle of cola over the head of an ex-girlfriend in a restaurant.

Another relationship, with actress and former Miss World Aishwarya Rai, ended acrimoniously with Ms Rai later making allegations that she was beaten up by Khan - a charge he has denied.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Khan has a huge, loyal fan following

In the past few years, the actor has worked hard to shed his "bad boy" image - with some success.

His devotion to his family, particularly his brothers, is well known and he is reputed to go out of his way to help friends and even strangers.

A few years ago, he started Being Human, a charity to help the underprivileged through education and healthcare. The charity sells T-shirts and other products online and in stores, and the proceeds are used for charitable work.

His relationships with women also seem to have matured. Although he parted ways with actress Katrina Kaif some time ago, they remain good friends and the couple acted together in in Tiger Zinda Hai and Ek Tha Tiger.

But two years ago, he caused outrage by saying that his filming schedule for Sultan was so gruelling that he felt like a "raped woman".

He also said he was able to quit every "vice" - like cigarettes, alcohol and coffee - except women.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Khan started the Being Human charity to help the underprivileged

An outraged National Commission for Women (NCW) ordered him to apologise and even summoned him to appear before them.

Khan's father said sorry on his behalf and his actor brother called his comments "not appropriate", but he himself refused to apologise.

Through his lawyer, Khan told the commission that they did not have the "jurisdiction to take matter of this kind", and the actor managed to thumb his nose at them and get away.

So far, he's also managed to evade punishment in serious criminal cases against him.

Brush with law

In the 2002 hit-and-run incident in Mumbai, the trial court convicted him in May 2015 and handed him a prison sentence of five years. Even though the guilty verdict came after 13 years, many said the misdeeds of his past might have finally caught up with him.

But the actor got a massive boost in December of the same year when the high court overturned his conviction. Last year, the prosecution appealed in the Supreme Court and the case is under consideration there.

The illegal hunting and killing of the protected gazelles and blackbucks in 1998 in the western state of Rajasthan was his first serious brush with the law.

On Thursday, the trial court judge called him a "habitual offender" while handing him a five-year sentence, but it's unlikely that he will spend more than a few days in jail.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Khan has been sentenced to five years in jail for poaching

His lawyers have said they will appeal against the order in the high court and they have already filed a bail plea.

In two of the four cases that were originally filed against him for killing the rare animals, he was convicted and sentenced to five years in prison in 2006, but spent less than a week inside before being released on bail.

And in July 2016, in a major setback for the prosecution, the Rajasthan high court overturned his conviction.

An appeal against that order is pending in the Supreme Court, but there's no clarity when an order will come.

So Thursday's court verdict may just be another minor setback for him.

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