Why else would Sanjay Dutt's jail term evoke so much public outcry?
Look at the dramatis personae rushing to his aid - ministers and minions, the Bollywood swish set, thespians like Dilip Kumar and hopeless tinsel hopefuls like Monica Bedi. We have Signora Sonia herself, who reportedly summoned her honchos to an emergency huddle on the issue. Not surprising, considering that Dutt's sister Priya is a Congress MP who inherited her constituency from their late father.
Sibal attacks Sorabjee on Sanjay Dutt issue
New Delhi, Aug. 6 (PTI): Attacking former Attorney General Soli J Sorabjee for criticising the support Sanjay Dutt was getting, Union Science and Technology Minister Kapil Sibal today said he had merely said that Congress should stand by the actor in his hour of need.
"I am intrigued by his comments. I had indicated that I am making the comments as Sanjay Dutt's former lawyer and not as a member of the Union Cabinet and this would not have affected the case," Sibal told reporters here.
"I had just said that the Congress should stand by Dutt in this hour of crisis because of the long association his father had with the party and also because his sister is a sitting party MP," he said.
"I think it is unfair for the former Attorney General to comment on this," he said.
Picking on Sorabjee's comment that Dutt's case should not send a signal of a "celebrity justice delivery system" because of the actor's stature, he said "justice has to be done by the court" and cannot be influenced by support from certain actors or the Congress party.
Educated citizens in our cities are taking out demonstrations and painting their faces to show solidarity with their fallen star. For media, the event has provided grist for a protracted festival, one they greedily hope will fatten their ratings.
We've seen it all - from the soap-opera climax of Sanjay Dutt's conviction to the feverish script of the courtroom exchanges. From the tear-jerking farewell given by his Bollywood brethren to a car chase on the Vashi-Panvel highway involving his pal Bunty Walia. Vidhu Vinod Chopra must have sequels lined up to the horizon.
Why are we so stung by Sanjay Dutt's conviction? And why, at the same time, are we struggling to extricate our feet from our mouths after three weeks of insidious insinuation against Dr. Mohammed Haneef?
Go on, be brave and utter that distasteful word - which one better fits the description of terrorist? Haneef, against whom no charge has been proven? Or Dutt, who has clearly violated the law by having alleged terrorist links, possessing illegal weapons and attempting to destroy the evidence?
The answer could well be blowing in the wind. For Haneef we know only from shards of televised images, most of them accompanied by incriminating commentary and copious prejudice. But Dutt we have grown to love, thanks to two ticket stubs in three years.
For the sake of argument, leave out religious identity and suchlike irritants that mess with our decision-making. Had Haneef been a star, he would have enjoyed our sympathy as much as Dutt does. But then, the hearts of our countrymen have long been ruled by celluloid. Now, they have lost their heads to it.
Come to think of it - two Munnabhais ago, Dutt was a doomed man. With his already fragile image tarnished by his 1993 arrest in connection with the Mumbai blasts, the lurking spectre of his drug addiction, the lost custodial battle for daughter Trishala, and a broken marriage to Rhea Pillai, he needed a break.
Redemption came with Munnabhai MBBS, a rare entertainer from Bollywood's jaded stable. The sequel, Lage Raho Munnabhai, saw him do a postmodern, if rustic take on Gandhi. 'Gandhigiri', a dumbed-down cocktail of non-violence and civil disobedience that Dutt's character championed in the film, inspired a few sporadic real-life skirmishes against corruption. With that, the Khalnayak of yore became a messiah of sorts. Bollywood triumphed in dragging another sullied hero out of the muck.
Maybe that explains why Bollywood is so cut up with this badly timed sentencing. By the industry's own admission, nearly Rs. 1.5 billion worth of business is at stake if Dutt remains out of the scene for six years.
Bollywood and its blinded fans make a flimsy and deluded point when they argue that Sanjay Dutt has 'changed for the better' or become a 'good citizen' during the last few years. Justice delayed we can live with, but not justice denied. Exploiting mass hysteria and using the fictional Gandhigiri as a ruse to exonerate Sanjay Dutt amounts to ludicrous theatrics at best.
At the same time, we can't help but wonder if the influence of Bollywood has also penetrated the hallowed wigs of the judiciary. For, in what appears to be more than irony or coincidence, Dutt has been sent to Yerwada Jail where Mahatma Gandhi was lodged in 1922. We hear he has signed up for a course in Gandhian principles.
Going by precedent, it is naïve to imagine that Dutt's image will suffer with his imprisonment. If he keeps his head, he can profit from the publicity. Maybe lofty things are in store for him - a Presidential pardon, or a political candidature on his return from prison.
As we watch, the lines between art and reality are blurring again. Is it Sanjay Dutt or Munnabhai who has been sent to jail? Or is it just our sense of fair judgement that has been imprisoned?
(Bijoy Venugopal works in the IT industry in Bangalore. Whenever he finds the time, he is a closet writer, illustrator and husband.)
A website called www.boletoh.com could well be taken for a Bollywood site with signatories like King Khan, Jaggu Dada and Deol brothers. But the owners of boletoh.com would have you believe that they are all there to campaign for jailed actor Sanjay Dutt.
The online petition boasts of 1,500 signatures in favour of Dutt. Not only that, the actor’s supporters have now allegedly started an SMS campaign to reduce his sentence.
So, does this amount to contempt of court? Public prosecutor Ujjwal Nikam would have it so. “I believe everyone has a right to express their opinion but what they are doing will interfere with the judicial process. Every accused has a right of appeal and can take legal recourse but making statements like this I think interferes with the judicial process,” Nikam said.
But Nikam’s tough stance hasn't cut much ice with legal experts.
“Once a judgment is delivered even criticising the order without attributing intention to the judge is not contempt,” Senior Advocate of Supreme Court, Kamini Jaiswal said.
Experts may differ but Bollywood says it’s not part of any such petition. Fear of possible judicial proceedings could be a reason or the Dutt family's request for restraint until his bail application is heard in the Supreme Court.
Even though the ‘save Sanjay’ campaign has lost most of its sting, this is hardly the first time people have reacted against a judgment. Candlelight vigils across the country in the Jessica Lal murder case was also seen as victory of people power.
Even the death sentence meted out to Parliament attacker Mohammad Afzal saw people both for and against the verdict out on the streets. So does Nikam's threat have any truth in it?