Munnabhai's fate stuns Nepal

Aug 1, 2007 Sudeshna Sarkar

Kathmandu, Aug 1 (IANS) Though reeling under flood and violence, Nepal still forgot its troubles to react with shock and awe to the news that Sanjay Dutt, a superstar from neighbour India's Hindi film industry, had been sentenced to prison for six years for the illegal possession of weapons.

Ironically, while Indian television channels were reporting the sentence Tuesday evening, a Nepali film channel was airing "Laage Raho Munnabhai", the blockbuster comedy starring Dutt, that was a sequel to the earlier popular film "Munnabhai MBBS" - the tale of a gangster with a heart of gold.

Dutt's sentencing by a special court grabbed the headlines in Nepal's media as well, with TV channels, FM stations and the daily newspapers reporting the verdict in a case that went back to 1993, when India's film city Mumbai was rocked by a series of blasts killing 257 people and wounding hundreds.

In Nepal, where the two Munnabhai films especially were a big hit, the newspapers wrote about Munnabhai being put behind bars.

"Munnabai chale jail", said Kantipur, Nepal's largest-selling daily, in a front-page report Wednesday.

The same heading was echoed by the Naya Patrika tabloid, that devoted half its centrefold to the fate of the 48-year-old actor whose career had reached its best.

"I was shocked to hear about the sentence," said Nabin Subba, one of Nepal's best-known film directors, whose debut film "Numafung" won acclaim at home and abroad.

"Though I had thought he would be jailed, I did not expect a six-year prison sentence. I felt it was not proportionate to his crime."

Subba, who has watched many of Dutt's films, including earlier ones like Sajan, Vastav and Sadak, said he also felt troubled at the thought when Dutt would be freed, he would be in his 50s.

"For a actor, it spells the end to his career," Subba said.

However, the Nepali director added that it was a personal feeling. The verdict, he said, also indicated that in India no one was above law.

"The law treats you the same whether you are a politician or star or common man," he said.

Subba said while there was some discontent about verdicts in India, they were accepted without protest, which was far from the case in Nepal.

"In India, people have faith in the legal procedures," he said. "But in Nepal, it's not like that. There is rising conflict in Nepal, which is bad for our society."

Nepali actor Nikhil Upreti, known for his penchant for doing his own stunts himself, and one of the top stars in the Nepali film industry, said that while he sympathised with Dutt as a fellow actor, the verdict proved that the law made no distinction between the rich and famous and the man on the street.

"I appreciate the fact that in India, no one is let off if he is found guilty," Upreti said. "But in Nepal, the bigwigs are never brought to justice. They continue to enjoy powerful posts with no one daring to take action against them."

While appreciating the Indian legal system, Upreti, however, added that he couldn't believe that Dutt had committed such a big crime to deserve six years in prison.

"He did it partly out of ignorance," Upreti said. "And then, he tried to make amends."

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Lage Raho Munnabhai

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