Salman Khan: Bollywood's popular 'bad boy'

Salman Khan Image copyright AP
Image caption Salman Khan has acted in more than 80 Bollywood films

Salman Khan has been the "bad boy" of Bollywood for as long as anyone can remember.

The brawny 49-year-old superstar has appeared in more than 80 films in his nearly three-decade-long career. Khan has played a range of popular roles - from the cloying romantic hero to a flashy action star. Popularity chased him swiftly to the small screen when he become the convivial host of Bigg Boss, the popular Indian version of Big Brother.

Behind the glitter, Khan appeared to have a dark side.

He was accused by a former girlfriend - a famous actress herself - of abusing her. There were reports of frequent scraps with fellow stars. On a hunting trip with friends in 1998, he allegedly killed two black bucks, a protected antelope species. (A trial has been going on for years.) Four years later, he drove his Toyota Land Cruiser over homeless pedestrians sleeping on a pavement in Mumbai, killing one and injuring four others. The incident underlined the glaring inequalities in India's financial and entertainment capital which is said to have more billionaires and homeless people than any other metropolis.

The law caught up with him on Wednesday, and Khan was found guilty and sentenced to five years in prison. But many say his behaviour - like that of fellow star Sanjay Dutt who is serving time for firearms offences linked to the 1993 Mumbai blasts - also showed how rich Indians enjoy and abuse their power with impunity.

Despite that, the court cases have done nothing to hinder Khan's career. He commands a massive and loyal fan base, mostly male and young.

They like the fact that he remains single and lives with his parents. They like to call him bhaijaan or brother. His fabled fandom has even inspired a film Being Bhaijaan which follows a bunch of Khan fans across India. The film's director Shabani Hassanwalia told the New York Times that Khan's fans live mostly in "small towns; his appeal is strongest for the men who feel left behind in India's race towards progress and development". Khan echoed a similar sentiment in an interview in 2013. "They somewhere see themselves in me. There are people who want to be stars," he said. For film critic Shubra Gupta he "embodies a mix of masculinity, freedom, brotherhood, attitude, swagger and gives off the impression to the fans that they have his back. He's the macho male with a gentle and generous heart."

Despite being frequently embroiled in controversies, Khan has continued to be a powerful Bollywood insider. Actress Preity Zinta told me once that Khan was one of the kindest men in the industry, always ready to help fellow actors. The fact that he comes from an influential film family - his father Salim Khan wrote some of the biggest Bollywood hits - has helped. Like Sanjay Dutt, Khan is also a child of a mixed marriage - his father is Muslim, his mother Hindu - and is an exemplar of a truly secular popular film industry in a country which has been often riven by religious tensions.

What happens to Khan next? His lawyers swiftly appealed against the verdict and they will try to argue down his sentence in the courts. For the moment he is on bail and out of jail. If that changes, the ruling will come as a setback to some directors who have invested or were planning to invest millions of dollars in films with him. "But make no mistake about it. His fans will continue to hold the torch for him," says Gupta.

Their love for the "bad boy" will remain undiminished.

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