The curious case of the film star and the Indian media continues. Bollywood star Salman Khan, convicted and sentenced on Wednesday afternoon by a sessions court in a hit-and-run drink-driving incident that killed one man and injured four, gets bail by Wednesday evening from the Bombay High Court. By Friday afternoon, his sentence is suspended, and the case will be taken up again by High Court after judiciary’s summer holidays are over, sometime after the middle of June.

That’s the law, all fair and square. And here’s the media. Having been covered in glory for the coverage of April’s earthquake in Nepal, the focus has now shifted almost completely to Khan. The first day had all the big guns out covering the verdict, the sentence and the bail plea. Almost immediately, events were overtaken by the enormous sensitivity of India’s film industry, which effectively used Twitter to blame those damned poor people who most inconsiderately sleep on pavements for sending their beloved generous star pal to jail.

Hardly had the media recovered from covering this display of love for fellow humans by Bollywood’s brightest when they were confronted with thousands, hundreds or maybe just scores (I use the word in the literal sense when a score meant 20 and decimated meant one of 10) of Khan’s fans standing outside his residence. With TV, you can never be sure of numbers. And the sea is most inconveniently placed in Mumbai’s Bandra Bandstand area. The fans appeared to be competing with the media, while and a few straggly police personnel made up the rest of the numbers.

Army of undertrials

The big numbers appeared later that night when journalists discovered that an estimated 250,000 people languish in Indian jails because they cannot cough up bail amounts. Arnab Goswami, ever the champion of the downtrodden on television, picked this most needed and neglected subject for his nightly discussion. However, Goswami and one of his guests, noted lawyer Aryaman Sundaram, shouted so much that I lost track of what they were actually saying. Perhaps others with better patience skills picked up some vital tips on prosecution failures and pending cases.

As usual, as journalists, we forgot the meaning of an appeal, of bail and of sentencing. From Salman Guilty we hopped straight to Salman Free, although bail means neither innocence nor acquittal. We need to go back perhaps to those 250,000 undertrials with no bail and only jail.

Confounding legalese

In between, newspapers reminded us of the desolate death of Ravindra Patil, Khan’s police constable bodyguard who filed the first FIR. The legalese confounded everyone. If on television on Night 1 of the Salman Saga, lawyer Satish Maneshinde tried to get Goswami to discuss the “Peddar Road case”, also known as the case of the vanishing Aston Martin owned by the Ambanis, he was unsuccessful. There are some things of which we do not speak.

As a people, we were caught somewhere between adulation for a film star, admiration for his charitable efforts and appalled astonishment at the callousness of his supporters and those who felt that justice is a one-way street on which victims should not be sleeping. There's also horror at the star’s supposed easy access to the higher echelons of the judicial system, though why we should be surprised is another issue. Perhaps it's because we felt on Wednesday that the rich and famous could face punishment for their actions but we were confounded by our own arguments by Friday night.

Television and print media both reminded us about the miserable existences of the victims and their families. But this is no socialistic Hindi film from the 1950s we’re involved in where the rich man is invariably evil and the poor man the eternal sufferer. When the Indian film industry metamorphosed into Bollywood, we left all that behind. We're dancing in a fake disco 30 years after disco died as a form of music.

The writer is a senior journalist. Her twitter handle is @ranjona.