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The Tollywood Drug Racket: Shiny Stardust and Shady Dope Bust

The drug racket has dragged in some big names in the industry – Puri Jagannadh, Ravi Teja, Navdeep and many others.

Updated
Celebrities
7 min read
The Tollywood Drug Racket: Shiny Stardust and Shady Dope Bust
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In mid-July, around 12 prominent personalities in the Telugu film industry were served notices by excise officials in Hyderabad. Reason: Their details had been discovered in an alleged drugpin’s contact list, who himself was picked up by the department only few weeks ago.

And thus unfolded Tollywood’s drug bust – where names like Puri Jagannadh, Ravi Teja and Tarun Kumar were questioned by the department officials.

While the media glare around the racket has been immense, the sequencing of events in the drug bust has almost been film-like with the involvement of some of tinsel-town’s most loved ones. For those caught unawares by the story, here’s a recap of what’s transpired so far.

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Previously… on Tollywood’s Drug Bust

On 4 July, Telangana’s excise department tracked down alleged drug kingpin Calvin Mascarenhas and arrested him, along with two other aides, for possessing drugs.

A quick look through Mascarenhas’ contact list helped the officials narrow down 12 names from the film industry, which includes director Puri Jagannadh, actors Ravi Teja, Tarun Kumar, Navdeep, Charmme, Mumaith Khan, Subburaju and Tanish, cinematographer Shyam K Naidu, singer Ananda Krishna Nandu and art director Chinna N Dharmarao.

While at first glance the names might seem to be randomly picked, sources told The Quint that people named have worked in close quarters with each other on several projects, forming a larger network within themselves.

It is important to note here that these names have only been summoned for questioning, and are not suspects in the case.

Meanwhile, responding to the notices served to the 12 people, the film fraternity organised a press conference, where producer Allu Aravind said that the image of the industry was clean, except for a “few individuals” who were maligning its name.

The 12 persons named were asked to appear for interrogation between 19 and 27 July. The first to appear before the department was Puri Jagannadh, Tollywood’s most celebrated director.

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Puri Jagannadh

Puri Jagannadh has helmed some of the Telugu industry’s biggest blockbusters, including Pokiri, which was remade in Hindi as Wanted. He also directed the Amitabh-starrer Bbuddah… Hoga Tera Baap in 2011.

Summoned by the SIT on 19 July, he was questioned by the officials for over 10 hours. Over the course of interrogation, the director was also required to hand over his samples of his blood, nails and hair for testing.

After the interrogation, Puri Jagannadh took to social media to post a video message.

Today, I went to SIT office. They investigated me about the allegations and I clearly told them that I am not familiar with Calvin nor have I met him. I respect the officials and if they ask me to come in again, I will. I am a responsible person and I have never done anything illegal, and will not do so in the future either. This is not just about drugs.

He further expressed his disappointment with the extensive media coverage, adding that it had ruined his personal life, and had hurt his wife and mother in particular.

Ravi Teja

Arguably one of Tollywood’s biggest stars, Ravi teja is one of Puri Jagannadh’s close friends, having acted in five of his films. The Mass Maharaja, as christened by his fans, was questioned on 28 July over his links with Mascarenhas and Zeeshan Ali. He was questioned for over 10 hours by the SIT. Following his appearance, his driver was questioned by the SIT on 29 July.

Ravi Teja’s brother Bharath who died last year in an accident had earlier been embroiled in a drugs scandal in 2012. Sources told The Quint that Ravi Teja’s questioning will predominantly revolve around his brother’s and driver’s numbers being found in Mascarenhas’ phone book.

Earlier, Ravi Teja told the media that he was not a drug addict and that he would support the SIT in investigation.

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Charmme Kaur

30-year-old Surdeep Kaur, alias Charmme, starred alongside Amitabh in Bbuddah… Hoga Tera Baap. She was summoned by the SIT on 26 July and was questioned for over six hours by a four-member team comprising three women officials.

She refused to let the SIT take her blood samples for drug testing, after the court asked the SIT to not take them without her consent. She was also denied a lawyer by the court at the interrogation after the court rejected her plea.

Over the course of the interrogation, it was understood that Charmme got in touch with Macarenhas after he was introduced to her by director Puri Jagannadh, reported The Indian Express.

Mumaith Khan

Currently a part of Bigg Boss Telugu hosted by Junior NTR, Mumaith Khan had to walk out of the show to appear before the SIT on 27 July. Considered to be close to Puri Jagannadh, she was grilled by the SIT for over six hours regarding the case.

Mumaith reportedly volunteered to give samples of body fluid, hair and nails but the SIT officials said that it was not required.

She reached Hyderabad from Mumbai after she got permission to leave ‘Big Boss’ for one day. According to the rules of the television reality show, no participant is allowed to leave the house till he or she is eliminated from the contest.

Upon her return to the house, nobody reportedly spoke to her about the questioning.

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Navdeep

An actor with over 25 films to his credit, Navdeep was questioned by the SIT on 24 July for over 12 hours. He was under suspicion of having procured dope from Zeeshan Ali, an event manager who was arrested in connection with the case on Sunday. Navdeep was also suspected to have a major stake in a pub that was frequented by drug peddlers.

After his questioning, Navdeep told the media:

I gave very clear answers to questions posed to me about my link with an event manager. Everything is OK.

He also took to Twitter to say:

Tarun Kumar

Known as the industry’s party animal, Tarun Kumar was questioned by the SIT for 13 hours on 24 July, over his alleged consumption of drugs in a pub he started in 2009. When he was served with the notice, although Tarun denied any links to the drug bust, he said he would honour the SIT’s wishes and appear for interrogation.

Speaking to the media after his questioning, he asserted that he had nothing to do with the drug racket and had cooperated with the SIT in answering all their questions.

I’m always a law abiding citizen. We hear that people in our city have been doing drugs. As responsible citizens, it is our duty to eradicate it (drugs) completely. Let’s say no to drugs.

Much like Puri Jagannadh, he too lashed out at the media later in a Facebook video and said:

I have an immense respect towards the media as it has supported me since I was a child artist. But, in the light of recent events, some news reports claiming I spend about 15 days every month in Goa and I have stakes in some pubs in the city, which are not true.
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Shyam K Naidu

A sought-after cinematographer in Tollywood, Shyam Naidu has collaborated with Puri Jagannadh in over 15 films, including the much-acclaimed Pokiri.

He was interrogated after Puri Jagannadh on 20 July for over six hours, where he was questioned on various issues, including his relationship with alleged drug pin Mascarenhas.

Subburaju

Also an actor who starred in Pokiri, Subburaju was questioned on 21 July for 11 hours where he reportedly divulged vital information on the link between the film industry and the drug mafia in the capital.

According to The Hans India, Subburaju spilled the beans on Puri Jagannadh’s parties, where event managers and drug peddlers close to the director would distribute their dope.

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The SIT is yet to question Tanish, Ananda Krishna Nandu and Chinna Dharmarao in connection with the drug racket. Meanwhile, adding to the list of arrests (20 so far), the SIT nabbed Kajal Aggarwal’s manager Johnny Joseph for being in possession of four grams of dry ganja on Monday.

Next Episode: The IT Industry

Even as the SIT is cleaning up the mess in Tollywood, reports suggest that it will soon shift its focus to the nexus prevalent in the IT industry. According to The News Minute, the department already has the names of many employees from several IT companies, and the arrest of Dutch national Mike Kamminga on 26 July seems to have directed the spotlight on private firms.

Stating that the department has served notices to 13 IT companies, Excise Minister T Padma Rao Goud told media persons:

We will call them for questioning once the officials gather sufficient proof. The government is helping the film industry, not targeting it. The ongoing investigation is being done on the basis of the proof gathered by the department. The department is looking into all aspects of the case.

Mike Kamminga's arrest was being considered a major breakthrough as he was reportedly supplying the drugs to peddlers from Europe.

SIT said searches/raids were continuing in different places in the city. It questioned two other persons, identified as Saad Nazir and Mubeen, in the case.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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