ENTERTAINMENT
05/04/2018 6:25 PM IST | Updated 05/04/2018 7:05 PM IST

It's Time For Salman's Fans To Stop Calling Him A Misunderstood Superstar

#IStandBySalman? You’ve got be kidding!

AFP Contributor via Getty Images

On Thursday, the Jodhpur trial court convicted Salman Khan, superstar of many a Bollywood blockbuster, for shooting two blackbuck antelope nearly 20 years ago on October 2, 1998, and sentenced him to five years in prison.

His army of lawyers are challenging the verdict and a bail plea shall be heard tomorrow.

But a conviction and a spell in prison are unlikely to make the slightest dent in Brand Salman. Tragically, the controversies that put Khan on the wrong side of the law have a seemingly opposite effect on the hundreds of thousands of Bhai fans, who determinedly stand by the superstar despite his misdemeanours.

In the paradoxical world of Bollywood fandom, if you are Salman Khan, a court conviction feeds the narrative of Khan as the perennial soft-target, the wronged underdog, the tragic hero, the man-child with the golden heart victimised for his celebrity, or a device exploited by the legal system to 'make an example out of him.'

Once his battery of lawyers bring him back to Mumbai, the star will get back to work, and bask in the sympathetic adulation of his fans.

If Khan's previous encounters with the law are anything to go by, here is what happens next:

The Family -- patriarch Salim Khan, mother Salma Khan, Helen aunty, the siblings, Arpita, Arbaaz, Alvira, and Sohail, go into mourning. A galaxy of stars, producers, directors, other sundry power-brokers of Bollywood descend upon Khan's Bandra home to show solidarity.

In the complex dynamics of Bollywood relationships, standing by a wounded Tiger is much more rewarding than cheering for him when he's at his fiercest. In that sense, Khan is like the industry's Voldemort: he remembers those who are faithful to him at his weakest, and rewards them with access to his inner circle and the coveted invitation for the year-end festivities at his farmhouse in Panvel.

Once his battery of lawyers bring him back to Mumbai, the star will get back to work, and bask in the sympathetic adulation of his fans (#IStandBySalman is a legit trend). His colleagues will become even more generous to him for 'all that he's going through.'

Endangered species shall perish at his hands, the homeless shall be run-over by his Land Cruiser, former girlfriends shall come on record about the abuse they suffered, but Khan will land on his feet.

His fans and the industry stood by him even after his very public break-up with then-girlfriend Aishwarya Rai, who accused him of physical abuse and causing havoc on her film sets.

If this sounds far-fetched, just look at his career.

The actor shot to overnight stardom with his second film, Maine Pyaar Kiya (1989), cemented his superstardom with hits such as Hum Aapke Hain Koun, Karan Arjun, Judwaa and cultivated his signature shirtless-hero image with Pyaar Kiya To Darna Kya.

But one of his most successful films, came right after the horrific 2002 hit-and-run case, when Khan's Toyota Land cruiser rammed into a sidewalk at Bandra's American Express bakery, killing one person and injuring several others. In December 2015, Khan was acquitted of all charges in the 2002 hit-and-run case by the Bombay High Court which set aside the Sessions Court's May order sentencing him to a five-year imprisonment.

AFP/Getty Images
Indian Bollywood actor Salman Khan (C) arrives at the airport in Jodhpur on April 4, 2018 ahead of a verdict in the long-running blackbuck poaching case. Indian actor Salman Khan is accused of poaching the protected blackbuck species in the Jodhpur district of Rajasthan in September 1998, and the two-decade-long case has included co-defendants Sonali Bendre, Saif Ali Khan, Tabu, and Neelam Kothari. / AFP PHOTO / SUNIL VERMA (Photo credit should read SUNIL VERMA/AFP/Getty Images)

Months after the hit-and-run incident, in August 2003, Satish Kaushik's Tere Naam, a deeply problematic film about an obsessive stalker played by Khan, was released to critical acclaim and commercial success. Reviewers lauded Khan's performance, and young men across the country thronged to their local barber shop to get the Tere Naam haircut. Khan was nominated in the Best Actor category for Filmfare, IIFA, and a Star Screen Award.

Ravi Chopra's blockbuster Baghban released soon after, proving that nobody was really mad at Khan. Khan's audience, cultivated over the 90s, was intact, the public sentiment feverishly in his favour.

His fans and the industry stood by him even after his very public break-up with then-girlfriend Aishwarya Rai, who accused him of physical abuse and causing havoc on her film sets.

Khan's success graph did flatten out in the mid 2000s, but that wasn't because an entire country had suddenly grown a moral compass.

In an interview to Bombay Times, Rai went on record to say, "There were times when Salman got physical with me, luckily without leaving any marks. And I would go to work as if nothing had happened."

But no matter; his supporters portrayed him as a heartbroken hero, scarred by an ambitious woman.

"Salman becomes a symptom of a larger culture of entitlement and privilege which hundreds of thousands of young boys everywhere connect with and seek to emulate," writer Jerry Pinto told India Today in a 2015 profile of Khan.

Khan's success graph did flatten out in the mid 2000s, but that wasn't because an entire country had suddenly grown a moral compass. He just made bad films.

But producers still lined up outside Bandra's Galaxy Apartments to pay him outrageous amounts to star in their movies. He had a lucrative pipeline of endorsements like Mountain Dew, Tiger biscuits, and Red Tape shoes and in 2007, launched Being Human Foundation, a charity organization that's been instrumental in transforming his image from Bollywood's de Facto Bad Boy to The Misunderstood Superstar with A Golden Heart.

Khan was back in the game in a hyper-masculine avatar with Wanted in 2009, and 2010's Dabangg turned him into a Bollywood deity, commanding devotion that can be rivaled perhaps by followers of a cult leader.

Between 2012-2017, he remained either at #1 or #2 of Forbes India Celebrity 100 list, ahead Shah Rukh Khan and Aamir Khan. He made $37 million in 2017, making the 9th highest paid actor in the world according to Forbes.

Joe Penney / Reuters
Actor Salman Khan poses for a picture on the Green Carpet at the International Indian Film Academy (IIFA) Awards show at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey, U.S., July 15, 2017. REUTERS/Joe Penney

This trend is likely to continue in 2018.

There's Remo D'Souza's Race 3, a successful franchise, produced by Ramesh Taurani. The film still needs a few days of shooting (and multiple days of promotions) from Khan's part and in the unlikely scenario that he remains locked in, the makers will have to work around a way to ensure the film releases in time. None of his other films -- Kick 2, Dabangg 3 and Bharat -- have commenced filming in a conscious decision, sources say, to avoid setbacks in case of his imprisonment.

Conviction in the blackbuck case is unlikely to affect his popularity with an audience that has endorsed his choices for so long that it is now almost complicit in his ensuing stardom.

Come Eid 2018, his next blockbuster will open in theatres to even mightier numbers, the momentary rage felt by the naysayers will subside, another one of his chartbusters will rule radio and streaming waves, and for Bollywood it will be business as usual.

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