Will superstar Salman Khan go to jail on Friday to serve a five-year prison term handed down to him for killing a homeless man in a 2002 hit-and-run case? Maybe. But, then again, maybe not.
The question will be answered when the Bombay high court hears Khan’s bail plea on Friday as his 48-hour interim bail comes to an end, putting to rest all speculation about the star’s fortunes in the 13-year-old case that has seen almost as many twists and turns as a Bollywood blockbuster.
The 49-year-old "Dabangg" star was sentenced to five years for culpable homicide not amounting to murder on Wednesday for killing a homeless man with his SUV after a night out drinking at an upmarket bar. However, he escaped jail after the Bombay high court granted interim bail barely hours after his conviction.
Khan challenged his conviction immediately after he was convicted by the Mumbai sessions court, along with a plea seeking bail while the court hears the appeal.
It is possible the high court will grant him regular bail while it hears his appeal challenging the conviction and the five-year jail term. But the court may also cancel the interim bail granted to Khan, sometimes described as the enfant terrible of Bollywood.
Generally, an appeal court will grant bail to a convict who has proved he is not a flight risk during the trial. However, in Khan’s case, rejection of bail is also a possibility mainly because the high court has granted him interim bail primarily because the trial court order was not provided to him immediately after the verdict.
If the high court rejects his bail plea, the Bollywood star may urge the high court to at least grant him some time to surrender and in the meanwhile approach the Supreme Court. But if no such time is granted, the actor will have to surrender before the trial court which will take him into custody and send him to a central prison.
Khan is not expected to be in court when the appeal comes up for hearing.
Khan fled the scene after his Toyota Land Cruiser rammed into a group of people sleeping on a pavement outside a bakery in suburban Bandra in 1992. One labourer died and several others were injured in the crash.
Several witnesses, including survivors of the crash, testified that Khan was driving the vehicle, but when Khan finally took the stand in March, he said his driver was behind the wheel. The driver testified in court last month that he had been behind the wheel, and that the crash occurred after the front left tyre burst, making steering and braking difficult.
But the judge found Khan guilty of all charges, including driving while under the influence of alcohol and without a licence. A constable attached to Khan's security team said in his statement to police that the actor lost control of the car while driving at about 90kph.
One of the sleeping labourers injured in the accident said in his statement that "Salman was so drunk (that) he fell". Khan's lawyers said the star had in fact been drinking water and had climbed out of the driver's seat after the accident because the passenger side door had been damaged.
The conviction is likely to bring Khan’s career to a grinding halt, with an estimated Rs 300 crore riding on him as films and endorsements. The actor has starred in more than 100 films and television shows since his first hit, Maine Pyar Kiya in the 1980s.