Is the Hyderabad drug racket an inconvenient truth or unnecessary distraction?
For more than a week, the special investigation team (SIT), led by Akun Sabharwal, has been making headlines for grilling several celebrities from Telugu film industry over their alleged links with drug suppliers in Hyderabad. After the team arrested Calvin Mascarenhas, an event manager, who is at the centre of the scandal, scores of people in the industry were issued notices to appear before SIT.
Puri Jagannadh, Shyam K Naidu, Subbaraju, Tharun, Navdeep, Charmme, art director Chinna were some of the celebs who were interrogated by SIT and few others like Ravi Teja, Mumait Khan are expected to meet the team in the next few days.
So far, none of the celebrities have come forward to confess about what exactly transpired at these 10-hour long interrogation sessions, except for accepting that they co-operated with the probe and answered all the questions.
Recently, Charmme approached the High Court alleging that the SIT was trying to collect her blood sample without her permission. The High Court ordered SIT to interrogate Charmme at a location of her choice between 10 am - 5 pm and that she shouldn’t be forced to give her blood sample, and also added that, she must be interrogated in the presence of police-women.
After all the brouhaha, Charmme met the SIT officials in their office in Hyderabad, while the media scampered to get a reaction from her just when she was about to enter the office.
In yet another surprising twist in this probe, Kajal Aggarwal’s manager Ronnie was taken into custody for possession of narcotics. Soon, Kajal made a public statement that she has zero tolerance for such activities which hamper the society and that she has got nothing to do with Ronnie’s personal life, although he does run errands for her in South.
— Kajal Aggarwal (@MsKajalAggarwal) July 25, 2017
While SIT has been doing a commendable job in going after all those who they suspect of having connections with Calvin Mascarenhas, the question which people have begun asking is - What’s the extent of influence of drugs in film industry, in particular, and what could have led to this situation?
It’s clearly not a new phenomenon. In a recent interview, Bhanu Chander, who was hugely popular in the 80s and early 90s, confessed that in the beginning of his career when he used to live in Mumbai, he became habituated to drugs. “I was saved by my elder brother who promptly weaned me away from the habit by introducing me to martial arts,” Bhanuchander said.
The lives of celebrities are once again out in the open and everyone has an opinion or two about them. And the scandal has turned into a massive TRP-churning machine for everyone who has been tracking the scandal. A popular opinion about why some people in the industry indulge in drug abuse in the first place points fingers at the extravagant lifestyle which some people live.
Goa, Bangkok, Pattaya and Phuket are some of the popular hangouts for actors, writers and directors in Tollywood, and over the years, these places have become synonymous with hedonism. On top of that, the stereotypes attached to people and the places they frequent have further complicated the issue where you can’t look at the scandal objectively.
So, what could have led to this situation? And is substance abuse a form of fighting against emotional distress? Whether it’s Bollywood or Tollywood, it’s an open secret that usage of marijuana is rampant. In fact, some people have come to believe that it helps you to clear your mind and come up with more ideas, especially while writing.
“Okka joint kodithe chaalu (One joint is enough)” - is often quoted as an antidote to writer’s block. And then, there’s a small set of people who believe in the magical qualities of MDMA (Ecstasy), which is said to open floodgate of thoughts shortly after its consumption.
However, the nexus between drug suppliers and Telugu film industry hasn’t been spoken about with such enthusiasm in a very long time.
Hyderabad was once a quaint city, which didn’t feature prominently on the national map for an active nightlife. And then, everything changed in the early 2000s. With the advent of IT industry, the city went through a major makeover and the real estate boom made a lot of people rich in a short span of time. Scores of nightclubs, bars sprouted in various nooks and corners of the city. Then came big scale music concerts, events which attracted people from all corners of life.
Not surprisingly, SIT has also issued a serious warning to several pubs in the city and even went on to cancel licences of few places which had come under their scanner during the investigation. This is also a case of Hyderabadis imitating everything that’s a result of pop-culture. The rave parties that tourist destinations like Goa and Gokarna were once synonymous with became rampant in the outskirts of Hyderabad.
Every time a drug racket is busted in the city, the police have named at least one foreign national as a culprit in the case. A rise in number of such incidents had become a cause of concern for the police officials. Incidentally, the customs officials, especially at the airports, have come across several cases over the years which hinted at Hyderabad, slowly, becoming a hub for drug trade in South Asia and South East Asia.
In April earlier this year, customs officials arrested a Hyderabad passenger who was trying to smuggle Ketamine, worth Rs 2.37 crores, to Malaysia. Further investigation, according to several media reports, revealed that “he was part of a racket, which pours synthetic drugs worth millions of dollars into the foreign market. Hyderabad is these criminals’ manufacturing hub. They take orders from their counterparts abroad and produce Methamphetamine, Ketamine, Ephedrine and even Methaqualone (meth) in Hyderabad and smuggle it to South East Asian countries through air flights.”
In another shocking incident, which occurred in 2015, a South African national, Mosiea Moosa was arrested at the Rajiv Gandhi International Airport in Hyderabad when the customs officials found narcotics hidden in her belly and urogenital tract. This was one of the few incidents which made headlines; however, a significant amount of narcotics seem to have slipped under the radar and made its way into the city.
This isn’t the first time that Tollywood has come under the scanner for drug abuse. Back in 2010, a similar drug scandal rocked Tollywood and names of several A-list celebrities popped up during the investigation.
While most of them weren’t charged with any crimes, it was evident that Hyderabad and particularly the film industry had few rotten apples who were peddling drugs and established connections with drug suppliers in Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore. Back then, the police investigation established that the names of few celebrities were being used as an alias for drugs.
For instance, 'Har Har Mahadev' became a generic term for narcotic drugs. According to a Times of India report, expensive drugs like Ecstasy go under the code of Anushka; Opium is Trisha at some places while cheap drugs are called Mumaith.
Seven years later, the ghosts of the past have come back to haunt Telugu film industry. While the police officials haven’t filed a charge sheet against anyone from the industry who is being interrogated right now, this hasn’t stopped rumour-mongers to take on celebrities without any solid evidence. Rumours and unverified information are being packaged as undeniable truths and the constant media glare has evidently cornered several celebrities.
Although the film industry has been dealing with the probe with restraint, the probe itself has put the industry under severe pressure to come clean. Not just that, it has also exposed the chinks in the armour of an industry where people tread a fine line between their lives as public figures and private individuals.
With their reputation and credibility at stake, it’ll take a while before everyone, under the scanner right now, can bring normalcy back to their daily lives.
Telugu film industry commands a loyal fanbase and the ongoing investigation has turned into a point of discussion satiating the general penchant for drama in life. It’s unlikely that this scandal will have an impact on the industry in the long term, but as long as it continues, it’s proving to be an unnecessary distraction for those who love movies above everything else.
Already, the earnest appeal by Puri Jagannadh, to stop the barrage of negative reports about him, has earned him a legion of sympathisers that he’s being unfairly targeted by the media.
In any case, what a select few individuals do in their personal life, within the confines of their home, isn’t a reflection of what the industry stands for.
But it’s also high time that we question ourselves if the personal lives of public figures are so important in the first place and if all this will make us change the way we watch films. The answer might very well be a resounding no, and in that case, there’s hardly a reason why we must invest all our energy and time into something that we’re likely to forget in a short time.