Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 12 December 2018

Celebrities like Salman Khan have a duty to behave as role models

He has a moral responsibility to his young fans to answer for his actions

Bollywood actor Salman Khan outside the Jodhpur court in Rajasthan. Sunil Verma / EPA
Bollywood actor Salman Khan outside the Jodhpur court in Rajasthan. Sunil Verma / EPA

It says much about the celebrity culture of our time that when Salman Khan, a man who has been variously accused of killing a man while drink-driving and of hunting endangered deer, was released from prison yesterday, there were scenes akin to a wedding celebration. Crowds danced in the street to songs from his films. Hordes of fans outside court beat drums and chanted his name.

The actor is the ninth highest-paid in the world. He has a career stretching back to 1989 and has become a superstar through making more than 100 Bollywood films. But he has also become known of late for less salubrious reasons. On Thursday he was convicted of shooting two rare blackbucks, an endangered species protected under the Indian Wildlife Act, on a hunting trip while filming in 1998. He was sentenced to five years in prison but spent only two nights in Jodhpur Central Jail after being released on bail to fight his appeal.

Khan's celebrity status might have made him feel invincible. His conviction sent a strong signal that the long arm of the law cares not whether those before it are famous. It only cares that justice is done. Chief judicial magistrate Dev Kumar Khatri, who issued the verdict, called the actor a "habitual offender". He was referring, no doubt, to Khan's conviction in 2015 of drink-driving into five homeless men in Mumbai, killing one. Khan, who denied he was behind the wheel and blamed his driver, was acquitted after prosecutors failed to prove charges of culpable homicide. The acquittal is currently being challenged in the supreme court. The actor has denied culpability for his latest conviction while animal rights groups have expressed dismay at his release from jail.

Judging by the crowds, Khan's reputation will no doubt survive intact, not least because he has cultivated a "bad boy" image both on and off screen. Millions of fans venerate his wealth and power. But Khan would do well to remember that as a role model for them, particularly for the impressionable young, he has a responsibility to behave in a way which is beyond reproach. Time and again he has found himself in a courtroom and time and again, he has expressed no remorse or consideration for those who look up to him. Those in the public eye have a duty to set an example. Khan has let down his fans by falling drastically short of the standards we should all expect of him.