Bollywood bad boy Dutt heads to jail over guns case

MUMBAI (AFP) - Bollywood star Sanjay Dutt surrendered on Thursday to face three-and-a-half years in jail for illegal possession of weapons, in a case linked to deadly bombings in Mumbai 20 years ago.

Accompanied by family and friends, the 53-year-old was greeted by a crowd of journalists at the gates of his home before travelling in a convoy of cars to a court in the city's south, where another huge crowd swarmed around his vehicle.

Dutt was initially unable to leave the car because of the chaotic media mob that police struggled to control.

He eventually entered the court with his sister and wife, and from there he will be transferred to jail.

Known as a Bollywood bad boy, Dutt was convicted in 2006 of possessing guns supplied by gangsters who staged the 1993 bomb attacks that killed 257 people, but he was freed on bail after serving 18 months in prison.

In March this year the Supreme Court upheld Dutt's conviction but cut his jail term from six years to five.

He was later granted four extra weeks of freedom to work on unfinished movies.

The court on Tuesday refused to hear a plea of a film producer who sought more time for Dutt to surrender so he could complete two films still being shot.

Analysts estimate about 2.5 billion rupees (S$56.9 million) are riding in Bollywood on the muscular star, who is best known for playing a mobster with a heart of gold in the "Munnabhai" series.

On Wednesday, Dutt withdrew another plea to give himself up in a different city, which he had made citing threats to his life.

Officials said Mumbai's Arthur Road jail had received an anonymous death threat letter targeting the actor, the Press Trust of India news agency reported.

A top officer of the jail, where Dutt may be taken initially, said Dutt would get adequate security.

A string of Bollywood names visited Dutt's home in the trendy Bandra suburb before he turned himself in, while a Hindu rightwing group protested outside late Wednesday demanding he receive the death penalty, reports said.

A heavy police presence stood guard by the residence and the court on Thursday.

The actor, whose parents were two of India's biggest stars, shot to fame in the 1980s in a string of action movies in which he performed his own stunts, earning him the nickname "Deadly Dutt".

Dutt, whose mother was Muslim and father Hindu, was acquitted in 2007 of more serious charges of conspiracy in the deadly blasts, which also wounded more than 700 people.

The attacks were believed to have been staged by Muslim underworld figures in retaliation for religious riots in which mainly Muslims died, following the razing of an old mosque at Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh state.

The father-of-three was found guilty of possession of an automatic rifle and a pistol, which he insisted were only meant to protect his family in the tense atmosphere in Mumbai following the mosque's destruction.

At a news conference following the hearing in March, Dutt wept as he declared himself "a shattered man" and some prominent figures have called for him to be pardoned.

The former heavy drugs user lost his first wife to cancer while his second marriage, to a model, ended in divorce. He wed for a third time in 2008.