Mumbai/Pune: Bollywood star Sanjay Dutt on Thursday walked free from a Pune prison and returned to his home in Mumbai to a hero's welcome, finally ending 23 years of legal troubles that began when he was found with an assault rifle reportedly linked to the 1993 Mumbai blasts.
Hundreds of fans gathered outside his Bandra residence, celebrating with song and dance the return to Bollywood of their favourite hero who has been regaling cinegoers for over 30 years. Manyata, his third wife, their twin kids and sister Priya hugged and kissed him.
"For 23 years, I wanted to taste freedom, and finally the day has come," Sanjay told an army of journalists after reaching his residential building whose gate was adorned with flowers and surroundings featured his posters.
The feeling of being free "is not sinking in", said a tired but visibly happy Sanjay, 56. "I know I will come to terms with it... It still feels like I am out on a furlough or parole. Just to be free is an amazing feeling."
It was at 8.35 a.m. that Sanjay, son of legendary actor couple Sunil and Nargis Dutt, stepped out of the Yerwada Central Jail (YCJ), carrying a large shoulder bag and a small plastic bag. In an emotional moment, he kept the large bag down, turned around to kiss the ground and stood up to salute the Indian tricolour fluttering atop the jail.
Sanjay, whose versatile filmography includes "Rocky", "Munnabhai M.B.B.S.", "Dushman", "Haseena Maan Jaayegi", "Vaastav: The Reality", "Parineeta" and "Agneepath", spent 18 months in jail as an undertrial before he was granted bail.
Later, after a Supreme Court order in May 2013, he was sent to YCJ to serve the remaining 42 months of his five-year sentence. During his jail term, Sanjay came out on parole and furlough multiple times, leading to questions on preferential treatment.
Bollywood celebrated too. His friends from the film fraternity accorded a warm welcome. Sanjay is looking forward to being back on screen soon - and his own life story is set to be brought on celluloid by Rajkumar Hirani.
"I'm proud to be an Indian," said Sanjay, adding he was missing his father - a former Congress MP -- the most.
"If my father was alive, he would have been the most happy person," said the actor, who took a chartered plane from Pune to Mumbai with his family and close friends -- and went straight to the famed Siddhivinayak temple.
From there, he went to pray at his mother's grave first and later folded his hands in front of his father's portrait at his residence. Manyata, his third wife, their twin children Iqra and Shahran, sister and ex-MP Priya Dutt and close friends were by his side.
Sanjay's fans were all over. They showered their love with garlands when he made his way to his house through a sea of admirers who raised their smartphones in the air to capture the moment. Security was tight, with some of superstar Salman Khan's bodyguards deployed for Sanjay.
Near his home, a contingent of drummers played a deafening welcome tune for Sanjay, who sported a casual dark blue shirt and jeans, flaunted salt-pepper sparse hair and a stubbly beard.
Many others celebrated his homecoming in unique ways.
These included a free meal of 'Chicken Sanju Baba' at south Mumbai's Noor Mohammadi Hotel, 50 percent discount on all meals, and free servings of a specially created 'Bhai-Baba Chal Mere Bhai' at the Bhaijaanz Restaurant in Bandra.
An auto-rickshaw driver, Sandeep Bachche, offered free rides in Bandra.
(Quaid Najmi can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org and Uma Ramasubramanian at uma.sagit@gmail. (IANS)