Salman Khan leaves prison after two nights in jail
Bollywood star was sentenced to five years on Thursday for poaching endangered deer
Bollywood superstar Salman Khan left prison on Saturday after being granted bail to allow him to contest a five-year prison sentence for killing endangered wildlife two decades ago.
Hundreds of frenzied fans awaited the 52-year-old as his vehicle sped through the gates of Jodhpur Central Jail, where the action star had spent two nights after being sentenced on Thursday.
Some tried to cling on to the sides of his sports utility vehicle and scores of motorbikes followed Khan as he was driven at high speed to Jodhpur airport to a waiting chartered jet.
Swelling crowds — many men emulating Khan's distinctive hairstyle and clothes — also gathered outside his luxury apartment in Mumbai, dancing to songs from his films.
A judge granted Khan, one of the world's highest paid actors, bail in the sum of 50,000 rupees (Dh2,800). He cannot leave India without court permission.
Hordes of fans outside the court erupted in celebration on hearing the decision, beating drums and chanting Khan's name.
Khan did not attend the bail hearing but prosecutor Mahipal Bishnoi said the actor must appear in court again on May 7.
Khan's army of fans and the Bollywood elite had been stunned by the earlier sentence of the court in Jodhpur, a city in Rajasthan state.
Khan had denied shooting dead two rare antelopes known as blackbucks on a hunting trip while filming a movie in 1998.
But while fans and producers of upcoming films may be relieved, the actor — affectionately called "Bhai", or "brother" in Hindi — still faces a major courtroom drama.
The animal rights group Peta said it was disappointed with Khan's bail.
"While Salman Khan gets to go back home to his movie star life for now, blackbucks were made to pay the highest price, with their lives," said Manilal Valliyate, chief executive of Peta India.
The brawny actor, given the prisoner number 106 in jail, had reportedly been skipping his no-frills prison meals but not his workout sessions. The Times of India newspaper reported that he spent three hours exercising Friday.
Khan has accused Rajasthan's forest department of trying to frame him. His lawyers claim the blackbucks died of natural causes such as overeating, insisting there was no evidence they were shot.
The blackbuck is an endangered species protected under the Indian Wildlife Act.
Four other Bollywood stars — Saif Ali Khan, Sonali Bendre, Tabu and Neelam Kothari — who were also accused in the case were acquitted due to lack of evidence.
Khan remains one of Bollywood's biggest draws despite his off-screen drama, starring in more than 100 films and television shows.
He finished second behind Shah Rukh Khan in the 2017 Bollywood earnings rankings. Both the Khans are among the top 10 most highly paid actors in the world.
The Bollywood heartthrob's latest blockbuster Tiger Zinda Hai (Tiger is alive) collected some $85 million (Dh312m) worldwide.
Khan has nearly $90m riding on his projects in coming months with at least three films in the pipeline, analysts say.
A director of one of Khan's upcoming films Race 3, which was largely shot in Abu Dhabi, expressed relief at his release.
"I am happy that he has got bail. After working with him so closely I have become a huge fan of him not only as an actor but also as a human being," Remo D'Souza told the Press Trust of India.
"Almost 90 per cent of the shoot for the film is over and the remaining portions will mostly be shot in India," he said.
Khan spent a total of 18 days in prison in 1998, 2006 and 2007 in the poaching cases, but was freed on bail. He had been sentenced to prison terms of between one and five years in related cases before being acquitted by appeals courts for lack of evidence.
Khan has faced other charges in the past. In 2014, the Mumbai High Court acquitted him in a drunken-driving, hit-and-run case, after he was accused of running over five men sleeping on a pavement in 2002, killing one of them.
The judges found that prosecutors had failed to prove charges of culpable homicide.
The government of Maharashtra state has challenged that acquittal in the supreme court.
Updated: April 7, 2018 05:32 PM