perhaps when the address gets changed. As it has happened this time,
from the fast-paced tracks of Mumbai, Bollywood to the relatively
quieter lanes of Hyderabad, Tollywood.
The recent arrest of two
Telugu actors Saira Banu and Jyothi in a sex racket that came close on
the heels of the arrest of two other Tollywood personalities, actor
Ravi Teja's brothers while buying drugs, has come as a shocker for an
industry hitherto known more for its lavish productions and
larger-than-life superstars. Drug Paradise
The number of drug peddlers, brokers and consumers found within
Tollywood has the police worried. Primarily because they fear the drug
mafia may spread its tentacles to arms smuggling , sex, murders and
thefts. "The world over, the experience is that a drug addict will
commit any crime for a dose," says Hyderabad
additional commissioner of police (crimes) S Umapathi.
As per a confidential assessment by the police, about 30 per cent of the 2000-odd artistes are involved in drug abuse.
The renewed focus in the drugs-and-sex drama has come in the last 45
days during which the cops caught four Nigerians and Ugandans peddling
drugs in posh areas.
In the first three instances, the police
caught only foreigners possessing drugs. Interrogation helped them
progress to the fourth catch on August 19 when two users were nabbed —
Raghunatha Raju (Raghu Babu) and Bharat Raju, both character artists and
brothers of hero Ravi Teja
They, along with their businessman friend Naresh, were caught
red-handed in a decoy-*****sting operation purchasing cocaine from a
Nigerian C Clement on the posh Road No. 3 of Banjara Hills.
Not the first time
The drug mafia-Tollywood connection cropped up as early as February,
when producer KV Rao was arrested while in possession of cocaine. His
interrogation gave leads about the wide drug network in Mumbai,
Hyderabad and Bangalore
. The cops found that Rao had been to Dubai
several times in the past few months. Of course, Tollywood was quick to
disown him saying he had produced a film over 15 years ago but was
given membership in the Producers' Council due to certain obligations.
Interestingly, while all those who have been caught so far are B grade
artistes, the police claim to have information about several A-listers
too. Some names under the scanner are: Daggubati Rana (who will be
making his Bollywood debut soon), Trisha (recently seen in Khatta
Meetha), Kamna Jethmalani
, Poonam Kaur, Uday Kiran
and Nani. Predictably, they all denied the rumours. Police too say all
those whose contact numbers are with the peddlers can't be deemed
guilty. "They are only suspects and are under watch," an investigator
Nevertheless, Tollywood stars have unwittingly lent
their names to the drug scene in Hyderabad. At some places, 'Har Har
Mahadev' is the term for narcotic drugs. Thereafter, the specific
substances have been innovatively named after heroines. Expensive ones
like Ecstasy go under the code of Anushka (a hot favorite in Tollywood).
Opium is Trisha at some places while cheap drugs are called Mumaith.
What brought it on?
But what has brought about this sudden burst of drug-related activities
and hedonistic lifestyle in the Southern film industry? Some trace it
to the pub culture that entered Hyderabad eight years ago.
Tollywood insiders say most of the drug users today are the ones who get
into it for fun unlike the mid-80 s when several actors were rumoured
to take them out of frustration. These days, heroin and cocaine have
just become ingredients to add to the fun at a party.
In fact, Hyderabad's rich and famous have always patronised a thriving pub culture. Hero Akkineni
Nagarjuna, who started his Touch Pub seven years ago, sold it off to a Congress
leader (Srikala Reddy of Nalgonda
district) four years ago, reportedly after his father Akkineni Nageswara Rao
expressed displeasure after a police raid. "Now, he has nothing to do with this pub", says his assistant.
But Touch Pub is one of the nine pubs under police scanner for "spiking
drinks with drugs for repeat customers", according to police
commissioner AK Khan.
Other in-demand pubs include 'ON' (owned by actor Tarun at Banjara Hills), 10 D at Begumpet
, Fusion 9, Little Penang, F Bar (renamed Venom) among others.
Bottles and Chimney, related to a prominent elected representative, is
also a sought-after one. Another pub n a star hotel at Banjara Hills
is a quiet place for celebs to carry out their business, often without the knowledge of the management, police say.
But J Satyanarayana, deputy commissioner supervising the simultaneous
probes into the drug and sex scandals, blames people who entered the
film industry flush with funds they made from real estate as the real
culprits. "They lost their money in films and are taking to drug
peddling and organising flesh trade," he adds.
More police action
Khan, meanwhile, has already written to his Mumbai
counterpart proposing joint operations and is now planning to send teams to Mumbai and Delhi
, from where cocaine is believed to have been brought to Hyderabad.
In fact, the police feel that the nexus between drugs and sex racket
was established with the arrest of Ravi Teja's brothers and that of
Saira Banu and Jyothi. "They both are close and spotted in a pub on Road
1, Banjara Hills", an investigator said.
A shocked industry
Meanwhile, the industry feigns shock and horror. Tollywood elders,
worried about the tarnishing image, point out that only a dozen people,
mostly "model managers or coordinators" rule the drug and sex mafia.
Even the two producers caught — KV Rao and Hemanth Ramakrishna are not
genuine producers, they say. Others blame the police. MAA
president M Murali Mohan
feels the police "should have caught anybody with evidence and expose that particular person to the public" while Thammareddy Bharadwaja
, former chairman of producers' council is angry with the speculation.
"Everyday one name is dragged into it and he or she has to deny the
charge. There may be 30 or 50 drug addicts. The police should catch the
addicts with evidence and expose them instead." Stars, on their part,
claim innocence and blame the media.
Actor Nani even offered to "undergo blood tests" while Kaman
Jethlamalai sweetly claimed she doesn't even smoke. "I've no knowledge
how my phone number is among those with the peddler," she said. Ditto
for Daggubati Rana who tweeted: "The hand that rules the newspaper
thinks it rules cinema!! Less do they know that they need to rule their
own brains before writing."
But AK Khan
shakes off the criticism. "We're aware they are influential. Hence, we
will catch them with enough evidence, though it takes time. We are sure
we can prove the accused guilty in the court," he says.
is surely giving some people cold sweat. Such as the son of a very
powerful Tollywood producer who is desperately trying to save his face.
His family is understood to be trying to rake up some political issues
in order to ensure his name never comes out.