Aryan Khan, the son of Bollywood megastar Shah Rukh Khan, walked out of a Mumbai prison on bail on Saturday morning, nearly a month after he was arrested on drug-related offences following a raid by the Narcotics Control Bureau.
The 23-year-old was met by his entourage and driven in a convoy of cars to his Mumbai home. He could not be released on Friday as his lawyers failed to meet the deadline to deliver sealed documents to complete the paperwork at the prison in time.
He was granted bail by the Bombay High Court on Thursday after spending 28 days in jail following his arrest during a police raid on the Cordelia cruise liner as it sailed off the coast of Mumbai on October 2.
Dozens of his supporters gathered outside the jail’s gate amid heightened police security for the celebrity, whose arrest has been followed non-stop by television channels.
His home in Mumbai was festooned with lights but closed to the public after hundreds of his fans arrived for street celebrations.
On Friday, the court set 14 conditions for his bail, including a personal bond of 100,000 rupees ($1,335), an international travel ban and regulated movement within the country.
The actor has to present himself before investigators every Friday and seek police permission should he wish to leave Mumbai.
Khan and seven others were arrested during the raid on the cruise ship and are accused of the sale, consumption, procuring banned substances, and conspiracy.
No drugs were found in his possession and he has pleaded innocence.
But the anti-drug agency claimed to have found incriminating WhatsApp chats from his mobile phone that link him to an international drug ring.
A lower court denied him bail last week.
The high-profile case has caught the attention of the country amid allegations that his arrest was linked to India’s growing religious and political divide.
Allegations against Modi
Many critics have alluded to the fact that the anti-narcotics agency, controlled by Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government, was part of a witch-hunt against the country's leading Muslims actors.
Bollywood has been dominated by Muslim actors for decades, including the three “Khan megastars” – Shah Rukh, Salman and Aamir.
But since Mr Modi’s rise to power in 2014, many Hindu nationalists have called for purging Muslim influence from the industry, arguing it should promote film stars from the country's majority religion amid an increased focus on producing patriotic films.
In recent weeks, Aamir Khan was accused of “creating unrest among Hindus” for an advertisement encouraging people to stop bursting firecrackers before the Diwali festival.
He has previously faced a backlash over his remarks, which have been viewed as allowing intolerance to spread in the country.
Shah Rukh had faced a similar smear campaign in 2015 over his comments on growing extremism in the country, with a senior member of Mr Modi’s party and Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath comparing him to Hafiz Saeed, a UN-designated Pakistani militant leader.
Mr Modi’s party members earlier this year accused the makers of a political drama of being “anti-Hindu” and police complaints were registered against the series’ main lead – a Muslim actor – and another film star Saif Ali Khan.
Saif Ali Khan was also later criticised for naming his second son Taimur, the name of a 14th century Turkish ruler who invaded India.
Arati Jerath, a Delhi-based political analyst, said the arrest of Aryan Khan was an attempt to target Shah Rukh and “knock him off the pedestal of India’s top celebrity actor” amid political bickering between Mr Modi and his rivals.
“The way these events unfolded with Aryan…the whole case really feels like some kind of deliberate attempt,” Ms Jerath told The National.
“The right-wing nationalists have had this project for a long time, of trying to purge Bollywood of Muslim influence…after the Modi government came in, they tried to promote Hindu actors and displace the Muslim triumvirate.”
The case has also brought to fore the political rivalry between Mr Modi’s government and a regional ruling alliance that has accused the central government of destabilising the Maharashtra state government.
Maharashtra, which has Mumbai as the capital, is home to the Bollywood industry and ruled by Mr Modi’s political rivals. One recent political tussle has been over the death of Bollywood actor Sushant Singh Rajput, who died last year following a history of drug abuse.
A senior state minister recently accused the government's anti-drugs agency of implicating the star’s son to target the state government and accused its lead investigator, Sameer Wankhede, of extortion and forgery.
One of the witnesses in the case claimed that Mr Wankhede was extorting money from the star’s family, prompting a bribery investigation against the officer by the Mumbai police.
“It has now become a political battle with the NCB, Maharashtra government jumping in, allegations between centre and the state…the whole picture has got quite murky,” Ms Jerath said.