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Shocked Bollywood Stands Behind Jailed Actor

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By Krittivas Mukherjee

A premiere was cancelled, film shoots were halted and some nightclubs called off weekend parties as India's entertainment industry reacted with shock to the jailing of a top actor for acquiring guns from gangsters.

Sanjay Dutt, 48, was sentenced to six years in prison on Tuesday for taking an AK-56 rifle and a pistol from those blamed for a string of bombings that killed 257 people in 1993.

Many in the Hindi-language film industry, popularly called Bollywood, expressed dismay at the punishment.

"Six years for an act of recklessness -- that's too harsh," said filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt, who helped resurrect Dutt's career with two big hits after he was freed on bail in the 1990s.

For a man who reportedly took to drugs in high school, hobnobbed with India's most-wanted criminals and whose private life constantly made headlines, Dutt retains the sympathy of the industry and millions of fans who see him as a victim of his star lineage and own fame.

Such is the fascination for the son of the legendary Bollywood couple Sunil and Nargis Dutt that even the judge who sentenced him could not help betray his emotions.

"You have to have faith in yourself, Sanjay," judge P.D. Kode was quoted as telling Dutt in a conversation in his chambers late on Tuesday.

The judge, who held the media's attention expertly by holding Dutt's verdict until the end of the 14-year trial, drew parallels with legendary Hollywood star Gregory Peck.

"He was acting till the age of 100 and you have to do the same," he told Dutt. "I have only done my legal duty. I have only taken away six years from you."

Sympathy vs Justice

Some shocked fans wrote letters in blood urging the court to free their hero, some offered to do his time in jail, millions discussed the sentence on the streets, and newspapers devoted special pages to the story.

The premiere of a colorized 1950s film was cancelled at the request of its ageing star, Dilip Kumar, a close friend of the Dutts who had watched the actor grow from childhood.

A nightclub frequented by Dutt cancelled its anniversary bash and others called off their weekend specials. Some directors deferred their shooting.

"He is the true destiny's child. What will he do if his luck is bad," said Raja Chand, a fruit vendor and a Dutt fan who was present outside the court on Tuesday.

"First his wife died, second wife divorced him, his daughter does not live with him and then all this legal problems."

But through all his troubled years, Dutt has managed to stay at the top of Bollywood, with his biggest hits being a two-series film in which he played a funny, do-gooder gangster.

The second of the two films saw him espousing the non-violent principles of Indian freedom hero Mahatma Gandhi.

The films portrayed Dutt's character as a man with a heart of gold who messes up despite his best intentions, which some critics and supporters said mirrored his own life.

Newspaper editorials, however, said there was a need to look at the whole case objectively and Dutt had to pay his dues.

"Sympathy for Sanjay Dutt is understandable but not ultimately relevant," the Indian Express said.

"Misspent youth, basic good nature, the subtext of a tragic 'hero' -- none of this can be allowed to legally explain possession of illegally procured lethal weapons courtesy shady suppliers," it said. "In the case of Sanjay Dutt, the law has taken its course. No more, no less."


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