HYDERABAD: Here’s the news: the names of the Tollywood personalities who have been summoned by the Telangana Prohibition and Excise Department to explain their phone messages to a captured drug dealer are: Ravi Teja, Tarun, Navdeep, Tanish, Nandoo, Subba Rao, Charmme Kaur, Mumaith Khan, Puri Jagannath, Shyam K Naidu, Chinna and Srinivas Rao.
The last named is Ravi Teja’s driver. The rest of them are stars, big and small. The interviews have been scheduled from July 19 to 27.
But here’s the surprise: Akun Sabharwal, the director (enforcement) of the said department, is going to be on leave during that time. He said the reasons are personal, something related to the demise of his mother recently.
As eyebrows go up over this curious twist in Hyderabad’s much-touted crackdown on drugs in Tollywood, ten of the invitees have acknowledged the notices. The two who are shy are Nandoo and Tanish, both young actors. Meanwhile, denials and protestations of innocence are coming in from some of the others.
Actor Navdeep confirmed receiving the notice but gave an insight into what his pleas will be. Indeed his name may have buzzed the anti-drug radar but that may have been because he was associated with a number of event management companies and one that had a poor reputation. "They (these companies) could be associated with Calvin Mascarenhas (one of the peddlers now in the cooler) and I think that’s why I have been summoned.”
Navdeep -- who was once caught for drunken driving and then became an ambassador of sorts for sober behaviour -- said the media is sensationalizing Tollywood’s drug bust before anything has been established. “These allegations need to be proved," he said, and lamented that he has become a soft target for the media.
Actor Subbaraju, whose date is on July 21, said he hasn’t even seen Toollywood stars indulging in drugs. He supplied a certificate of character for all of the other 11 Tollywood invitees: Not one of them is a drug user, he said.
A denial also came from Akun Sabharwal, who is fronting this investigation into Tollywood’s dalliance with drugs. Sabharwal said it wasn’t he who has been blabbing to the media about the names in the list.
In the midst of all this excitement, Akun Sabharwal dropped the bombshell Friday that he is set to go on leave for one month beginning Saturday.
Sabharwal had earlier this month initiated an investigation into drug peddling in Hyderabad and faced the wrath of the political class when names of schools to which notices were issued by his department were leaked in the media.
He had then stayed away for a couple of days citing health reasons.
Speaking to the media Friday, Sabharwal cited personal reasons for going on leave. He would not reveal details. "I have 100 per cent support from the government. I had applied for leave even before this investigation started and the government has sanctioned it," he said.
Information gushing out of the Prohibition and Excise Department’s office is that there were 246 contacts on arrested peddler Calvin Mascarehnas' phone The 12 Tollywood personalities were issued notices on the basis of Calvin’s call history and WhatsApp chat.
The summons to depose is on the basis of the Narcotics and Psychotropic Substances Act. At the moment, the 12 personalities have been asked to come by for a chat. But Akun Sabharwal said that if something concrete emerges, they can be arrested. But curiously, he won’t be doing the grilling.
Meanwhile, one more arrest has been made in the episode that has enlivened talk in Tollywood. Another alleged drug peddler, Piyush, a civil engineer, was arrested in East Marredpally Friday afternoon based on information gleaned from by Calvin. That takes the number of arrests to 13.
Piyush is accused of supplying drugs to students. He used to allegedly procure them from Germany and Netherlands through the dark web. The department seized 3600 fake LSD units and some 100 pills in Piyush’s possession.