With Salman Khan set to appear before a Jodhpur court in the 1998 blackbuck poaching case on January 25, the time is ripe for unravelling the superstar's connection with the corridors of power.
Maine Pyaar Kyon Kiya, Salaam-e-Ishq, God Tussi Great Ho and Nanhe Jaisalmer. These unremarkable movies from the Bollywood stable had one thing in common: it was not for nothing that prominent Rajasthan Congress leader Bina Kak - who held key portfolios, including of women and child development and forests, in the Ashok Gehlot government - got to play noticeable roles in these movies.
In the late '90s, Salman Khan had begun to gain notoriety as Bollywood's enfant terrible. Girlfriend bashing, drunken brawls, flying into fits of rage were synonymous with the superstar in the film circles.
Meanwhile, in Jodhpur, a quaint city known for its monuments and palaces, Salman Khan was fast becoming the talk of the town. His late night revelries, booze parties and rumoured expeditions created more than just ripples.
Much to the chagrin of the local Bishnoi community, rumours of Salman Khan's alleged late night shooting expeditions spread like wildfire. The Bishnoi community has, over the years, remained steadfast in its committment to wildlife. Be it the chinkaras or the black bucks, beautiful but protected species have for decades been worshipped and treated by them like their own.
In town for the shooting of his film Hum Saath Saath Hain, Salman Khan allegedly went on a hunting expedition and killed two chinkaras in Bhawad and another one two days later at Ghoda Farms. Two black bucks were also allegedly killed in Kankari during an expedition in which his co-stars Saif Ali Khan, Neelam, Tabu and Sonali Bendre accompanied the actor.
The Bishnois have pursued the cases like a possessed people. In local circles, it is believed that had it not been for their dogged pursuance, Salman would have managed to wriggle himself out.
As legal troubles mounted for the actor, Salman Khan found solace in the exalted corridors of Bina Kak who claimed that she had found her long lost son in him. The actor was often spotted at Kak's plush Civil Lines residence, and everyone in the power circles of Jaipur had a fair idea about his growing affinity with the Congresswoman.
Salman's umpteen visits to Kak's residence were not hidden. Salman, his brothers Arbaaz and Sohail shook more than a leg at the weddings of Ankur Kak and Amrita Kak, Bina's son and daughter. Both sides made no bones about their association as Kak even went to meet the actor when he was released from jail, soon after his brief incarceration in 2006 in Jodhpur.
For the Congress leader, acting in big banner films had been an unfulfilled dream since her theatre days - and as her "deep bond" with the actor grew stronger, plum roles began coming her way.
Kak played the mercurial mother to Salman Khan's protagonist in Maine Pyaar Kyon Kiya.
And when things stay within a family, they really do stay within a family. Bina's daughter, Amrita Kak, got to sing more than a few songs in films starring the actor or those made by his producer friends, including popular numbers like "Character Dheela Hai", "Just Chill", "Love Me Love Me" and "Dhinka Chika".
Tongues began wagging hinting that this growing bonhomie was the result of a mutually beneficial relationship.
Bina Kak was the forest minister responsible for the protection of wildlife in Rajasthan. Salman Khan was an accused in the eyes of the law.
The Bishnoi community had been after him. Kak's detractors allege it was during her tenure that the government exhibited lethargy in the pursuance of Salman's cases.
It's a charge that Bina Kak refutes. "By the time it came to our knowledge, the case was sub judice. And how could anyone help? I was also a forest minister much later, but where? I mean, tell me, how did I help?", Kak told India Today.