-Town pays its own price in the blackbuck case – For 20 years, Tabu, Sonali Bendre Behl, Saif Ali Khan, Salman Khan and Neelam Kothari Soni have been inseparable. Like the title of their film Hum Saath Saath Hain during the shooting of which they found themselves embroiled in a controversy (the blackbuck poaching case), these stars, who aren’t exactly buddies, had to stay in regular touch with one another because of the long-drawn court proceedings.
Yesterday was judgement day. Salman was convicted and the others were acquitted, but even as they wiped their tears of relief, they were unable to truly smile. Firstly, because one of them, Salman, still had an arduous journey ahead. And secondly, because the memory of these last two decades have actually been a nightmare. And it has taken a toll on their mental and physical being.
An insider said, “A couple of stars from the group had to dig deep into their personal funds to pay for their legal fee. While some of the accused were more prosperous than others and had enough funds to meet the lawyers’ demands, for some, it was a difficult time.” One of the actors from the acquitted lot had earlier said, “I’ve not been so active in my career in the last few years. And, I had to depend on my savings to pay my legal counsel. It has drained me financially.”
Through the last few years, the actors regrouped in various places — sometimes at one of the actor’s homes in Bandra or at other times meeting in Jodhpur, hours before the Court case. One hears they would exchange pleasantries, but there was always an uncomfortable silence because the judgement was still due.
Yesterday, four of them walked free and one was left behind. As far as Bollywood goes, this chapter is far from over. After all, Salman is an important part of this community. Since he stood guilty as charged, there was no reason to rejoice.
What is the case about
In 1998, while shooting for Hum Saath Saath Hain in Rajasthan, Salman Khan along with his co-stars — Saif Ali Khan, Neelam Kothari Soni, Sonali Bendre Behl and Tabu — went on a shooting expedition. Salman is believed to have killed two blackbucks in Jodhpur’s Kankani village. On the midnight of October 1, 1998, the Bishnoi villagers, on hearing gunshots, came out running from their huts. They alleged that they chased the Gypsy that Salman was driving, and that he fled. The blackbuck is an endangered species and is protected under the Indian Wildlife Act. Following protests by the villagers, a case was filed against Salman, Saif, Neelam, Sonali and Tabu. Salman was charged under section 51 of the Wildlife (Protection) Act whereas the others were charged under Section 51 read with Section 149 (unlawful assembly) of the Indian Penal Code. Yesterday, a Jodhpur court pronounced its verdict. Salman was found guilty and given a five-year jail term.