Tollywood, sobriquet for the Telugu film industry, is rattled by charges of drug consumption and abuse. The notices issued by the Enforcement wing of the Excise and Prohibition department to 15 personalities, including heroes, heroines, producers, directors and some character actors, have created commotion in the industry that produces the second largest number of films after Bollywood every year.
Superstar Ravi Teja’s driver, Srinivas Raju, heroine Charmee, popular director Puri Jagannath (of Budhha Hoga Tera Baap fame in Hindi), young heroes Tarun, Navadeep and heroine Mumaith Khan and character actor Subba Raju are among those who are believed to have been served notices, according to sources in the special investigation team (SIT).
The notices were issued based on details gathered from the five arrested drug peddlers in the city since 2 June. The excise cops have busted a drug racket led by a local youth, Calvin Mascara. The racket sells LSD and MDMA to students, celebrities and businessmen in Hyderabad, among others. Last week, the cops issued notices to students and colleges. This week they turned their attention to the film personalities. The SIT, comprising five inspectors, has been directed to record the statements of all the persons mentioned in the data gathered from the drug racket accused.
Enforcement director Dr Akun Sabharwal, who reviewed the case at his office here on Thursday, decided to call people from Tollywood for questioning in the case. They were served notices under Section 67 of the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPA) Act, 1985. He told The Sunday Guardian that the cops have a right to call anyone to collect information in the case.
All those who were issued notices were asked to appear before the cops at the Enforcement Wing of the Excise and Prohibition complex near Exhibition Grounds Road on Nampally Station Road in the city, from 19-26 July. Dr Sabharwal indicated that the list may go up further and 30 to 35 persons from the film industry may be summoned for questioning.
Though the cops have not revealed the names of those who were called, the film industry is rattled by the notices and the local TV channels and social media are abuzz with all kinds of speculation. Frantic efforts are being made by the film industry persons who received notices from the cops to avoid appearing before the SIT as it would tarnish their image. Some popular actors and actresses are requesting that their statements be recorded at their homes or other places so that they don’t have to confront the media at the Enforcement office.
The cops are yet to take a decision on such requests, but sources in the SIT said that they won’t mind protecting the privacy of celebrities as long as they cooperate with the cops in the case. Director General of Police Anurag Sharma on Thursday told the media that the Centre, too, is closely monitoring the case in Hyderabad and none can escape from the investigation.
Stung by the charges of drug abuse and peddling in the Telugu film industry, some seniors of MAA (Movie Artistes’ Association, an umbrella body representing different trades in the film industry) have come out against drug use by anyone in the industry. The MAA has also announced measures like conducting awareness camps and banning of those involved in drug peddling.
MAA senior functionaries and senior producers D. Suresh Babu and Allu Aravind have lent support to the police in their drive against drug abuse by film people. “The Telugu film industry is a big family comprising around 30,000 men and women from different trades. The acts of a tiny number of people—20 to 30—should not be allowed to damage the reputation of us all,” said Suresh Babu.
Both Suresh Babu and Aravind also appealed to the media not to speculate at this stage on the names of heroes, heroines and others, as it would ruin their careers. “Let the investigations be completed and the cops identify the role of the individuals in the film industry and take action. We film people are always against drug abuse and consumption,” Aravind told this newspaper on phone.
As per an earlier schedule, Enforcement director Dr Sabharwal was supposed to go on leave for 10 days from Saturday, but he cancelled it on instructions of the Chief Minister who wanted to remove doubts over political interference in the case. “I have cancelled my leave and will be here till the recording of statements of all those served notices is completed,” Dr Sabharwal said on Saturday.