Jodhpur (India) (AFP) – Bollywood superstar Salman Khan left prison on Saturday after being granted bail so he can contest a five-year jail sentence for killing rare antelopes.
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 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.
He flew to Mumbai where more crowds — with many men emulating Khan’s distinctive hairstyle and clothes — gathered outside his luxury apartment, dancing to songs from his films.
Khan appeared on the terrace of his apartment with his family and waved to his fans.
A judge released Khan, one of the world’s highest-paid actors, in return for bail and sureties totalling 100,000 rupees ($1,500). He cannot leave India without court permission.
Hordes of fans outside the court erupted in celebration on hearing the result, 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 were stunned by the court sentence in the 20-year-old case.
Khan had denied shooting dead two rare antelopes known as black bucks on a hunting trip while filming a movie in 1998.
The court found him guilty while acquitting four other actors.
The actor enjoys a cult-like status and is affectionately known by the Hindi name “bhai”, or “brother”.
– Relief and anger –
“Prayers of millions worked,” said television actor Arjun Bijlani in a tweet.
But while his fans and producers of costly upcoming films may be relieved, Khan still faces a major courtroom drama.
Throughout the multiple cases, eyewitnesses have stated they saw Khan firing a gun in October 1998.
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, black bucks were made to pay the highest price, with their lives,” Manilal Valliyate, chief executive of PETA India, said in a statement.
Khan has accused Rajasthan’s forest department of trying to frame him. His lawyers claim the black bucks died of natural causes such as overeating, insisting there was no evidence they were shot.
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 the 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 world’s top 10 best-paid actors.
The Bollywood heartthrob’s latest blockbuster “Tiger Zinda Hai” (Tiger is Alive) collected some $85 million worldwide.
Khan has nearly $90 million 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” 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 percent of the shoot for (the film) is over and the remaining portions will mostly be shot in India.”