Salman Khan: Big hearted 'bhai' turns cyber bully

Deepanjana Pal

Jul,09 2013 15:17 30 IST

You can't tell where you'll bump into a Salman Khan fan. Particularly in Mumbai, you could encounter a face glazed with shiny admiration at the mention of 'Bhai' absolutely anywhere. Khan's enormous popularity comes from the persona that has come together despite his career. It's a little silly to call Khan an actor because he doesn't act. Neither can one call him a philanthropist because the NGO he runs, Being Human, is more of a lifestyle brand than a not-for-profit outfit. On Twitter, he describes himself as a humanitarian, which is definitely the most cheered-for aspect of Khan's persona.

Outside his modest apartment in Bandra, you'll always find a crowd of men, looking up at his balcony and waiting for a glimpse of him, as though Khan is the pope or Juliet (or both). From the manicurist to the millionaire's heir, everyone in Mumbai seems to know Khan as the man with a big heart. Nothing stains this reputation; not the rumours of violence against girlfriends or connections with the underworld, not even murder charges. Whatever charges are levelled against Khan, the defence is the same: for all his faults, he's a good man. "Dil ka bahut acchha hai Bhai," said a young man who claims to have done Khan's manicures till a few years ago. "You won't find another man in the industry who helps the little guy as much as Salman," said someone who knows Khan and worked with him briefly. "He's popular because of this. This is how he connects. People sense his intrinsic goodness."

A still from Dabangg. Courtesy: IBN LIVE

A still from Dabangg. Courtesy: IBN LIVE

In recent times, the filmi character that has made the most impact among audiences is arguably Khan as Chulbul Pandey, the fearless cop in the Dabangg series. It's ironic that Chulbul Pandey cemented Khan's superstar status because Khan's relationship with the police force is, to put it mildly, eventful.

According to the allegations, on September 28, 2002, a drunk Khan crashed his car into a bakery in Bandra and ran over four homeless people, killing one and injuring three. They had been sleeping on the pavement and didn't expect a Land Cruiser to go over them in the dead of the night.

A particularly well-coiffed south Mumbai socialite had told me, soon after the incident, that the rash driving and murder charges were unfair. It wasn't Khan's fault that people were "sleeping on the roads," she protested with a pout. A Bollywood insider was less blasé, but still forgiving: "It was a mistake and it's one homeless guy. Why don't you look at all the people he has helped?"

Except it was more than one homeless guy and the last thing you expect the hero touted as the common man's champion to do is run the common man over.

The prime witness in the case against Khan was constable Ravindra Patil. Patil had been assigned to protect Khan after the actor complained that he was being threatened by the underworld. (For your mental equanimity, it's best to switch your irony radar off while thinking about Khan.) On the night of the hit and run, Patil was in the Land Cruiser with Khan, who was behind the wheel. In his statements to the police, Patil said that Khan was drunk and that he had told Khan to slow down, but Khan hadn't listened to him. There was reportedly great pressure upon Patil to change his statement. He was told to say that Khan had turned around to hear what Patil was saying and this was the fateful moment when the Land Cruiser ran over four people.

Patil, however, did not change his story. He did, however, go missing and was eventually discharged from the police force. Years later, he was found starving and suffering from tuberculosis. He died in 2007.
There is no confirmation about who was trying to force Patil into changing his statement, but in a blog post, journalist Soumyadipta Banerjee wrote about Patil in detail.

It was unclear who was putting pressure on Patil — some say they were all ‘well-wishers’ of Salman Khan from the police force while others say that those talking to Patil were Salman’s common friends from the film industry. Whoever they were, the pressure tactic seemed to be working as Patil was showing signs of a nervous break-down. ... Patil was a constable and hence belonged to the lowest rung in the police force. He admitted numerous times that he was under pressure and he would always try to duck the media.

During 2006, when the examination of witnesses was on, Salman had hired the best lawyers in Mumbai who were all charged up to cross-examine Patil. But then, something unexpected happened. Patil just ran away one evening. His brother lodged a missing report about Patil at a local police station.

Day after day, Patil chose to skip court dates because he didn’t want to face the defence lawyer. Soon, Patil came under scrutiny of the court because he remained absent at the court hearings. The court proceedings were stuck because Patil was absent in the witness-box. It also came to light that he had run away without applying for leave.

In a strange twist of fate, a man who had actually lodged the first information report against Salman Khan now had an arrest warrant issued against him for not turning up at court hearings. The arrest warrant was issued after he failed to appear for five consecutive court dates.

As the judge ordered that he be arrested and produced in court, his seniors at the police force simultaneously approved that Patil be sacked from his job because he was absent from duty. His seniors chose to ignore the fact that technically Patil was ‘missing’ and not ‘absent’ according to their own records.

Nobody was interested in knowing why he had run away from his house. Or, why the same person who was so forthcoming in lodging a complaint against a Bollywood star like Salman Khan, didn’t want to take the witness-box. Patil was never put under any witness protection programme.

To read the entire blog post, you'll have to click here . It was taken off Banerjee's blog because the blogger was instructed to do so. On July 8, Banerjee wrote,

The last two days have been really excruciating for me.

I have received a communication from Mr Salman Khan. There I have been instructed to remove two blog posts that I have written about him.

Those articles have been removed from this blog.

Here’s a public apology to Mr Salman Khan for writing two blog posts that he didn’t consider appropriate.

I am taking a break from writing on this blog till I am in a proper frame of mind to write again.

I am really sorry.

His last tweet reads, "I am not in a frame of mind to talk to anybody right now. Hope all of you will understand." If you scroll down Banerjee's website, you'll see that he takes great pride in writing about Bollywood in a way that isn't guided by PR agents and as a result, there's a lot of writing there that would make certain actors fume.

Most celebrities don't bother much with the internet and its opinions, unless there's something voiced by a reputed source or a friend. Khan, however, seems to have just about discovered the internet. On Twitter, he's yet to figure out the use of "@" and has regaled his many followers with updates that pendulum between banal, absurd and downright Pinteresque.

Example 1:

 

Example 2:

https://twitter.com/BeingSalmanKhan/status/324859310792384512

(Naturally "it" remains unexplained.)

Recently, he discovered a two-year-old photo of him and his friends, shirtless, and was reportedly livid. This could be because the photo makes Khan look like he's part of an Indian Chippendale crew or because rumour has it the 47-year-old actor no longer has the abs he used to (apparently, they're painted on his slightly flabby stomach these days).

Khan also set up a blog in May 2013 titled The Salman Khan Files, "the sole purpose being to present the facts, and the status of the cases I'm involved in." Two complaints have already been lodged against it. One is of the legal variety, submitted by activist Hemant Patil who argues the cases are sub judice and so, Khan can't go around spreading information about them. The other complaint is from his fans and haters both, who can't believe a website linked to Khan is so downright bland.

Perhaps Khan and/or his internet advisor discovered Banerjee's blog while researching for The Salman Khan Files. Once they found him, they persuaded Banerjee to take down the offending posts, which seems an odd thing to do for someone supposedly eager to let facts be known. Also, taking the post offline doesn't delete the cached pages in Google's clutches and there are copies of the blog post floating around now.

Most importantly, it wasn't just the odd personal blog that was interested in Patil. Khan's hit and run case is a high-profile one and big media corporations have written about and reported on Patil. For example, The Times of India wrote this obituary for Patil when he died in 2007 and many of the television news reports have not been sympathetic to Khan. But the country's biggest superstar didn't take on the big guys for what they said or wrote; he flexed his muscle against a blog with a little more than 1,000 followers.

So much for being a champion of the little guys.