Indian Bollywood actor Salman Khan at a promotional event in Mumbai. — Indian Bollywood actor Salman Khan at a promotional event in Mumbai. —

Bollywood superstar Salman Khan has sparked controversy in India by saying his heavy training schedule for an upcoming film left him feeling "like a raped woman". Khan made the comments in an interview to promote his latest Bollywood movie Sultan, which tells the story of an ageing wrestler trying to make a comeback. "When I used to walk out of the ring, after the shoot, I used to feel like a raped woman. I couldn't walk straight," 50-year-old Khan said in an interview with local news site published on Monday.

India's National Commission for Women (NCW) yesterday demanded a public apology, calling the comments "reprehensible", following an outcry on social media. "It's not only a wrong statement, it's very irresponsible and callous for a man whose fame and wealth is based on the adoration of his female fans," the head of NCW Lalitha Kumaramangalam told the Press Trust of India news agency.

The Bollywood star also said he had been able to quit every "vice" except women, giving up cigarettes, coffee and alcohol but not female company. His father, Bollywood lyricist Salim Khan, took to Twitter to apologies on his son's behalf, but insisted that "the intention (behind the comments) was not wrong". Khan is one of Bollywood's biggest box-office draws, starring in more than 100 films and television shows since his first hit "Maine Pyar Kiya" (I Fell in Love) in the 1980s.

But his personal life has long been dogged by controversy. Last year he was cleared of killing a homeless man in a hit-and-run crash and he is battling allegations he used unlicensed arms to shoot antelopes in western India. When he was appointed goodwill ambassador for India's Olympic team in the Rio Games in April, the country's sports stars reacted with dismay. Bollywood films are notorious for their sexism and Khan's movies in particular have been criticized for their weak female roles.

While several Indian filmmakers are breaking with stereotypes, such movies are still few and far between. "If you are a Salman Khan fan, it's good, but if you support his pathetic statement, you are nothing but a disgusting creature," wrote Twitter user @gautamverma23. Shaina NC, a spokeswoman for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party in Maharashtra state, tweeted: "Rape is an exercise of power to destruct a woman's self-esteem, (from what) I (know) of @BeingSalmanKhan he respects #women so he must apologize."-AFP