Some more people from Tollywood, as the Telugu film industry is popularly called, will be served notices by the Enforcement wing of the Telangana Excise and Prohibition department for consumption or peddling of banned drugs and narcotics. A special investigative team (SIT) of the department is probing the drug racket that was unearthed here in the last week of June.
Already, 12 film persons, including a director, a heroine, cinematographer and some character actors, were called to appear before the SIT office in Hyderabad from 19 July to 3 August. Popular director Puri Jagannath who made many blockbusters in Telugu and a film in Hindi (Amitabh Bachchan starrer Buddha Hoga Tera Baap) was grilled by SIT for 11 hours on Wednesday.
Excise and Prohibition Commissioner R.V. Chandravadan, who is co-monitoring the case along with Enforcement Director Akun Sabharwal, told The Sunday Guardian on Friday that Puri Jagannath, during his grilling, had denied consumption or promotion of drugs, but had thrown light on the scale of usage of drugs and narcotics in the film industry.
Puri Jagannath, who is known for the item songs and pub scenes in his gangster movies, told investigators that he was aware of drug peddling in the film industry on a large scale. He admitted to have known Calvin Mascara, arrested in the case, for long, but only as an event manager. Puri told the cops that most of the events and parties in the film industry were known for drugs usage, and Mascara was patronised by several big names. The director also had defended his friend and popular heroine Charmme and told the cops that she, too, had no links to drug consumption. She would appear before the SIT on 26 July.
The SIT people have collected hair and nail samples from Puri Jagannath for sending them to the forensic lab to test whether or not he used the banned substances in the last six months. The same would be done for others who are suspected to have patronised Mascara and his 11-member gang, now in Chenchalguda jail in the city. The list of more people who would be served notices would be revealed after 3 August.
The cops, based on the testimony of Puri Jagannath, had decided to call for some more film personalities for questioning after 3 August. Cinematographer Shyam K. Naidu and character actor Subba Raju were questioned on Thursday and Friday, while hero Tarun was questioned for about seven hours on Saturday. Heroine Mumait Khan, who is in the TV reality show, Bigg Boss, shooting in Pune, will be quizzed in Hyderabad on 27 July.
Sabharwal told the media that the Chief Minister had clearly asked them not to leave anyone, however big they may be, who are involved in the racket.
Director Ram Gopal Varma (RGV) on Saturday lashed out at the SIT officials for leaking information of their interrogations of prominent film people in the past few days. In a series of tweets, RGV asked whether SIT officials as well as Enforcement Director Sabharwal had a duty to defend the reputation of filmmakers and actors whose names were dragged in the case.
Besides grilling the film people, the Hyderabad police are also contemplating to deport scores of Nigerians and Kenyans who have been found to be involved in drug peddling in Hyderabad. In the last three years, as many as 18 Nigerians and three Kenyans were arrested in drug peddling cases and more are on the cops’ lookout.
Sources in the Hyderabad police commissioner’s (CP) office confirmed to this newspaper that the police are planning to take the help of the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) to deport these foreigners back home as they were found to be unwilling to change their criminal ways. “They came here for the purpose of studying, but strayed into drug peddling,” an ACP in the CP office said.
These 21 foreigners were arrested at least 40 times in the last three years and released on bail by the courts. The cops say that the peddlers were provided legal aid every time they were arrested from unknown sources. These foreigners along with local gangs procure drugs mostly from Goa and Mumbai and supply them to event managers and individuals from film and business backgrounds.
Telangana Director General of Police, Anurag Sharma held a meeting with three city police commissioners—M. Mahender Reddy (Hyderabad), Sandeep Sandilya (Cyberabad) and Mahesh Bhagawat (Rachakonda)—on Thursday on writing to the MEA on the deportation issue. It was decided not to affect the interests of genuine students who come to the city for studies.