Salman Khan
Salman Khan was found guilty of culpable homicide and faces five years in prison.Varinder Chawla

Bollywood stars have spoken in defence of Salman Khan, after the actor was sentenced to five years in jail for killing a homeless man in a 2002 hit-and-run in Mumbai. Four others were left injured.

Khan was accused of driving under the influence and fleeing the scene outside a bakery where the street-dwellers were sleeping. He claimed that he was not driving the vehicle despite several witnesses, including two of the passengers in the Toyota Landcruiser, testifying that it was Khan behind the wheel.

Today a High Court judge found the actor guilty of culpable homicide, describing the matter as an "open and shut case."

Judge DW Deshpande said: "You were driving the car; you were under the influence of alcohol."

On hearing the verdict, Khan's industry friends and peers turned to social media to express their shock at the news.

Producer / director Karan Johar described his personal sense of dismay at the outcome of the trial saying: "can only respond emotionally just now...my thoughts and prayers are with Salman and his family today....I wish them strength...."

Varun Dhawan, son of director David Dhawan said: "Sometimes your personally attached to a person so reactions are emmotional he is family for me #IstandWithSalmanKhan. I won't comment on the courts judgement. But salman Bhai has the biggest heart and is the most helpful person in this industry," he added.

Khan's former co-star Sonakshi Sinha reacted saying: "Terrible news. Dnt knw wht to say except tht will stand by @BeingSalmanKhan no matter what. Hes a good man and no 1 can tk tht away frm him."

Conceding that justice had prevailed, actress Alia Bhatt added: "It hurts when your own are punished, even if they are in the wrong. We love you and are standing by you"

While several stars similarly issued tempered clarifications, that their loyalty to Khan did not diminish the gravity of the crime and the need for justice, others faced a backlash from the public for their wholly insensitive comments.

Singer Abhijeet came under fire after he appeared to suggest that the homeless man who died was somehow to blame for sleeping on the pavement, and proceeded to compare the victims to dogs.

"Roads are meant for cars and dogs not for people sleeping on them.. @BeingSalmanKhan is not at fault at all. If you sleep on the road, you'll die a dog's death," he said callously. "

"Come out fraternity, support @BeingSalmanKhan boldly not hypocriticly Roads footpath r not meant 4 sleeping, not driver's or alcohol's fault

"Suicide is crime so is sleeping on footpath...80% homeles film ppl strugld achievd stardom but never slept on footpath," he added.

The singer was lambasted by the public and film fraternity alike for his deeply insensitive comments as he attempted to defend himself on Indian TV.

Director Kunal Kohli tweeted: "Abhijeet continues to make a fool of himself on every channel & with every tweet.This man is so insensitive & ridiculous."

Abhijeet later backtracked, and issuing an apology tried to explain his comment stating: "In my tweet I wanted to say that they [pavement dwellers] don't deserve to die like a dog."

Jewellery designer Farah Khan Ali was also the focus of derision after she tweeted: "It's like penalising a train driver because someone decided to cross the tracks and got killed in the bargain. #salmankhancase" She also attempted to defend her positon claiming she felt five years was too harsh a penalty.

While Bollywood has indeed stood by Salman Khan, along with his army of devoted fans, with the hashtag #SalmanKhanVerdict trending worldwide throughout the day, the wider public presented a rather more balanced perspective.

"hope his sentence is just and what he deserves, unaffected by his status. Not too harsh to "set an example" or too lenient. #SalmanVerdict," wrote one commentator.

"Being a good person doesn't give you the freedom of Drink and Drive. #SalmanVerdict" observed said another

"Victim blaming post #SalmanVerdict. Rich feel the poor shdnt be so inconsiderate as to sleep on roads, get run over. #LetThemEatCake."

Meanwhile, road safety campaigners have hailed the verdict as a blow against a culture of impunity.

"It's a very significant judgment and hope it sets an example," said Gautam Ghai of the Headlight India. "This judgment is in line with international laws. We need stricter laws to deal with cases of road deaths. More than a hundred thousand people die in road accidents in India every year and only a few people get punished," he added.

Indian actor and VJ Salil Acharya made a pertinent comment on the far-reaching influence of Khan in Bollywood and the divisive effect the reaction to his sentence will have on the film fraternity. "Its goin to be a witchhunt now .. Who stood by #salman and who didnt .."

While filmmakers and distributors are counting the financial cost of the verdict on the box office, for the wife and son of 38-year-old Nurullah Shariff, who was killed in the incident, the loss is incalculable.