MUMBAI/PUNE — Bollywood star Sanjay Dutt walked free from a Pune prison and returned to his home in Mumbai to a hero’s welcome Feb. 25, 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 favorite 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 Dutt told an army of journalists after reaching his residential building, of which the gate was adorned with flowers and surroundings that featured his posters.

The feeling of being free “is not sinking in,” said a tired but visibly happy Sanjay Dutt, 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 Dutt, the son of legendary actor couple Sunil and Nargis Dutt, stepped out of Yerwada Central Jail 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 tricolor flag fluttering atop the jail.

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Sanjay Dutt, 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 Dutt came out on parole and furlough multiple times, leading to questions of preferential treatment.

Bollywood celebrated too. His friends from the film fraternity accorded a warm welcome. Sanjay Dutt is looking forward to being back onscreen 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 Dutt, 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 Dutt’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 Dutt.

Near his home, a contingent of drummers played a deafening welcome tune for Sanjay Dutt, who sported a casual dark blue shirt and jeans, and 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, a 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.