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Last Updated: Tuesday, 28 November 2006, 16:11 GMT
Mumbai gripped by Dutt in the dock
By Monica Chadha
BBC News, Mumbai

Dutt arrives at court in Mumbai for the verdict
Dutt arrived to a media scrum at the court

Film star Sanjay Dutt's trial and speculation over whether he would walk free from court have been uppermost in people's minds in Mumbai (Bombay) for weeks.

Even those not tracking proceedings on a daily basis took a keen interest on the day that the guilt or innocence of the Bollywood star was decided.

So it was no surprise then that the city's media went into overdrive when the actor arrived at court.

He may be one of the country's best-known figures, but he was treated no differently from any other criminal suspect arriving at the high-security area of the Arthur Road jail.

Courtroom gasp

The special court is situated within the jail premises.

The actor turned up wearing a grey and red-checked shirt with blue jeans and a vermillion mark on his forehead. It was difficult to say what he was thinking as he underwent the security formalities.

Once inside, he sat at the back with other defendants and looked straight ahead.

Before the judge came in, the actor was able to step out of the courtroom for a quick smoke.

Sanjay Dutt outside court
Dutt's case has attracted enormous interest

He was even able to talk briefly to journalists before Judge PD Kode began the day's proceedings.

Sanjay Dutt was not the first accused to be dealt with by the court.

The judge pronounced two other accused guilty before finally calling accused number 117 - otherwise known as Sanjay Dutt - to the witness box.

A gasp went through the courtroom - where there were more journalists than defendants - when his name was announced.

Sanjay Dutt stood in the dock with his head either down or looking at the judge.

'Only earner'

He seemed a little impatient, absent-mindedly flicking his knee while waiting for his guilt or innocence to be determined.

There was little show of emotion when he was declared not guilty of any counts under the now defunct Terrorism and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act, including criminal conspiracy related to the devastating 12 March 1993 blasts.

But just when everyone thought the Bollywood icon may end up a free man, the judge pronounced him guilty for possession of illegal arms under the Arms Act.

Asha Bhonsle
He belongs to such a respectable family and I have personally known him as a very decent, civil and well-mannered person
Bollywood singer Asha Bhonsle

Sanjay Dutt seemed a little agitated after the verdict and looked like he wanted to say something to the judge.

He took his chance as soon as the verdict had been read out.

"I am the only earning member of my family," he said, before being ordered to keep quiet and told he would have a chance to address the court later.

"I don't have to hear you, after all this is over then I will hear you," the judge said.

He told defence lawyers to ensure their client stayed in the building while they submitted bail pleas in writing. Bail was later granted until 19 December.

'No traitor'

Some friends and colleagues were distressed at the idea of the actor returning to jail.

Asha Bhonsle, a singer who recently recorded a song with the Bollywood star said she was "absolutely sure that Sanjay is not a traitor to the nation".

"He belongs to such a respectable family and I have personally known him as a very decent, civil and well-mannered person. If anything it might be some immaturity that landed him into trouble," Ms Bhonsle said.

Actor Chunkey Pandey said that he "felt like crying" when he heard the verdict on television.

"Sanjay is a wonderful person and we all want our Sanju Baba to come back home safely," he said.

Bollywood film director Tanuja Chandra said: "I had absolutely no doubt at all about the fact that he never had anything to do with terrorist activities, because he is just not that type of guy.

"He is incapable of sitting and plotting some kind of conspiracy," she said.

That view seemed to be shared by ordinary members of the public - even those who lost loved ones in the 1993 bombings - such as taxi driver Chammapat Tiwari, whose cousin died.

"I think it is good Sanjay Dutt has been acquitted of terrorism charges because he did not plan it and was only convicted for possessing a gun," he said.

The actor has stopped all film assignments for the time being to base himself in Mumbai and has made a point of visiting Hindu temples recently.

After waiting 13 years for a judgement, Sanjay Dutt and his admirers and detractors must now wait a little longer before hearing his sentence.




SEE ALSO
Star guilty in Mumbai bomb trial
28 Nov 06 |  South Asia
In pictures: Sanjay Dutt
28 Nov 06 |  In Pictures
Sanjay Dutt: Bollywood's bad boy
28 Nov 06 |  South Asia
Long wait for Mumbai blasts justice
13 Sep 06 |  South Asia
Profile: India's fugitive gangster
12 Sep 06 |  South Asia
In pictures: 1993 Mumbai blasts
12 Sep 06 |  In Pictures
Salem implicates Bollywood actor
01 Mar 06 |  South Asia

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