When a young actress was attacked in a moving van on the Thrissur-Kochi stretch of NH 544 about four months ago, Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan’s immediate reaction was that there was no conspiracy angle in the incident and that the main culprits were already in the police net.
Four months later, when a drug scandal rocked the Telugu film industry after a Special Investigation Team (SIT) served notices to 12 celebrities, Telangana chief minister K. Chandrashekar Rao also reacted on similar lines.
The press note issued by the chief minister’s office following a high-level review meeting on the drugs case with excise and police officials stated: “Twelve people connected to the film industry, who were served notices under relevant sections of the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act, have appeared before the SIT. However, drug users should be treated as victims and not criminals. Using the information gathered through their interrogation, police are trying to smash the drug network.”
Treat them as victims!
The government’s critics pointed out that the hidden meaning behind the chief minister’s words affirmed the direction in which the police investigation would head. Though the chief minister had directed the officials to intensify the investigation into the incident, it was alleged that the probe started moving at a snail’s pace after his visit to Delhi.
In the actress assault case, actor Dileep was eventually arrested on conspiracy charges. Moreover, according to Pulsar Suni, the main accused, there are some big sharks involved in the case, and they are yet to be caught.
Similarly, Tollywood is now waiting for more skeletons to tumble out of the closest. Will interrogation of the Tollywood personalities summoned in the case, who were termed ‘victims’ by the chief minister, reveal their links with peddlers or their role as middlemen in the high-end online drug racket?
Going by the words of Telangana excise enforcement director, Akun Sabharwal, who is heading the SIT investigation into the Hyderabad-based drug racket, the probe is progressing in such a direction. “Under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act, to be involved in the drug racket either in the capacity of a consumer or supplier is an offense. I am unaware of chief minister K Chandrasekhar Rao’s statement that those using drugs would be treated as victims and not as accused. Apart from substance abuse, we have received vital clues about their role as connecting links between many others in the film industry and drug peddlers.
Use and share
The drug peddling racket shook the Telugu film industry like never before after the arrest of a couple of drug peddlers led to the grilling of several celebrities in the industry. The cartel had been regularly supplying high-end narcotics to people in the corporate sector and students of schools and colleges based in Hyderabad.
The arrest of the kingpins of the racket on the night of June 30 and in the early hours of July 1 blew the lid off the racket. The excise team checked the call record details of peddlers Calvin Mascarenhas and his friend and recovered vital clues regarding their links with many celebrities in Tollywood. The gang's clientele included actors who have featured in some Malayalam movies.
Investigations revealed that the racketeers used to place orders through a restricted online network to purchase high-end drugs such as lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) and methylenedioxy-methamphetamine (MDMA) online and deliver them by couriers to their customers.
So far, as many as 22 people, including two foreigners, have been arrested in connection with the case. The SIT suspects that Calvin’s clientele had hundreds regular customers, including about 300 students of city-based schools and colleges, forty people associated with MNCs and employees of IT firms in Cyberabad, and twelve celebrities from Tollywood.
The list of film personalities recovered from Calvin had names of only those who had worked with famous Telugu filmmaker Puri Jagannadh.
Some of the top film personalities who were summoned by the SIT in connection with the case:
When the racket was busted, the first one to be summoned for questioning by the SIT was noted director Puri Jagannadh. During the marathon grilling which lasted about 10 hours, he reportedly told the officials that he knew Calvin Mascarenhas as an event manager. However, later he denied it on the social media, claiming that he never met Calvin or had any dealings with him.
P. Subbaraju, who played the role of Kumar Varma in Baahubali 2: The Conclusion, was questioned by the SIT for about 12 hours after his phone number was found among Calvin’s contacts. He also claimed that he knew nothing about Calvin.
Actress Charmee Kaur, who has acted in a couple of Malayalam movies including the Mammootty-starrer Thappana, is one of the main suspects in the case. Her father came out in support of her on the social media claiming that he didn’t know how her name was involved in the case.
Mumaith Khan, who has featured in many Malayalam movies as an item dancer, punched her way to fame through the celebrity reality show Bigg Boss. The Mumbai-based actress was summoned for questioning during the shooting of the show. She also dismissed the allegations leveled against her.
Ravi Teja, known for his works in movies directed by Puri Jagannadh, was also interrogated by the SIT team. Prior to his questioning, his mother and relatives alleged a conspiracy against him saying that he was being targeted. The actor also dismissed the reports of his alleged links with the drug cartel.
Top stars involved?
Those who were interrogated by the SIT based on revelations made by Calvin included big sharks and small fish in the Telugu industry. Leading heroine Kajal Agarwal’s manager Puttkar Ronson Joseph has been the only person associated with Tollywood arrested in the case. All the other suspects were grilled at different locations from July 19 to 27. Most of the celebrities appeared at the SIT office at Nampally in Hyderabad under heavy security cover. Outwardly, all of them appeared pleasant and nonchalant, but it was obvious that inside, a storm was brewing.
Cinematographer Shyam K. Naidu and actor Tarun were also quizzed by the SIT. The investigation team received information that Tarun had been running a pub holding ‘all-night' party in Banjara Hills area, but sold his stakes after the drug racket came under the scanner.
From steroids to narcotics
To counter the stress of filmmaking and unrelenting heavy workload, there are celebrities who gravitate toward drug-fueled night parties and opulent lifestyles. Whereas many others who look for that perfect gym body take a risky shortcut. They heavily rely on steroids to transport from average frames to rippling muscle-bound bodies. Most of them eventually end up in the vicious circle of substance abuse.
(To be continued...)