Buck stops with Salman Khan, Rs 5-bn films hang in balance after sentencing

Bollywood actor Salman Khan arrives at the court in Jodhpur on Thursday to hear the verdict in blackbuck hunting case
Salman Khan, sultan of the Rs 1 billion box-office club, might just be dethroned. A Jodhpur court on Thursday sentenced the Bollywood actor to five years in prison and imposed on him a fine of Rs 10,000 for killing two blackbucks in October 1998. 

With the verdict, a sword of Damocles now hangs over Khan’s projects. He is slated to star in four major films over the next two years — Race 3, Dabangg 3, Kick 2 and Bharat. While the last three are in pre-production stages, Race 3 is in production in the UAE. Trade analysts said Rs 4-5 billion is riding on these films, which might be affected by his sentencing. 

Khan has starred in some of Bollywood’s most successful films, the latest being Tiger Zinda Hai (2017), which made Rs 3.39 billion in India. 

Race 3, the third in the action thriller franchise, is slated for an Eid release this year. The other three films are scheduled for release over the next two years. 

Khan also anchors Colors’s popular reality show Bigg Boss. While there is speculation every year whether the Dabangg actor will return as the host, Khan has been at the helm of the show since its fourth season. He was also expected to return to Sony Entertainment Television (SET) this year as the channel plans to revive the game show Dus Ka Dum. Khan hosted the show during its initial run (2008-2009). 

Khan is among the highest-paid anchors in the country, with estimates pegging his earnings per episode from Bigg Boss last year at Rs 60 million. 

He is also one of the most sought-after celebrity endorsers in the country. He was the face of Thums Up for over a decade and is currently the face of Appy Fizz, Revital, Paragon and Astral Pipes among others. Khan’s estimated annual endorsement fees are Rs 120-150 million per year per brand, which puts him in league with the other Khans — Aamir and Shah Rukh.

Khan, for the second successive year, bagged the top spot in the Forbes 100 Celebrity list last year, despite the subdued box office performance of Tubelight. The 51-year-old actor earned Rs 2.33 billion, backed by endorsements of several consumer-facing brands.

In fact, his earnings constituted 8.67 percent of the total earnings — Rs 26.83 billion — of the top 100 celebrities for the year.  

Khan had killed the two blackbucks during the filming of Sooraj Barjatya’s family drama Hum Saath Saath Hain in the presence of some co-actors. He was held guilty under Section 9/51 of the Wildlife (Protection) Act. His co-actors — Tabu, Saif Ali Khan, Neelam and Sonali Bendre — were acquitted by the court. 

Khan’s counsel Anand Desai said on Thursday that they would appeal to the sessions court to seek relief for the actor. 

Desai said, “We respect the decision of the court. While we are studying the judgment, it just came as a surprise as the entire investigation, and facts of this case, were the same as those for which Salman has been acquitted by the of Rajasthan High Court in two cases, and even by the CJM in the Arms Act matter for the alleged offence on the very same night as is the subject matter of the present case. Also, in the present case the court has acquitted all the five co-accused, which would imply that Salman was out hunting alone in the middle of the night in a remote area outside Jodhpur. We have preferred an appeal to the sessions court and applied for an urgent hearing today (Thursday). The sessions court will hear the appeal for suspension of the sentence/bail at 10:30 am tomorrow (Friday).”