The drug scandal in Sandalwood that led to the arrest of two leading Kannada actors – Ragini Dwivedi and Sanjjanaa Galrani –is getting murkier with the police summoning two more people from the industry for questioning, and bringing more actors under the radar of investigation.
Those in the industry, however, consider the current rumpus a rough patch, which too will pass and opine that the entire industry shouldn’t be blamed for the mistakes of a few.
The Kannada movie industry, which churned nearly 410 films in 2019, is one of the biggest in South Indian cinema. But, despite its fame, the industry has never experienced a scandal as severe as the current one.
The controversy broke out when filmmaker and journalist Indrajit Lankesh, brother of slain journalist Gauri Lankesh, made revelations that at least 15 people from the industry could be involved in drug trafficking and deposed before the police to provide information.
The incident which led to the arrest of Ragini and Sanjjanna put the Kannada film industry at the receiving end of criticisms and trolls, similar to what has been happening in Bollywood in the wake of the death of actor Sushant Singh Rajput.
Personalities in Sandalwood, however, say that the entire industry should not be blamed for the mistake of a few.
Industry bodies, actors’ association, film chambers and directors’ association are yet to take any collective decision on the recent developments even as the initial statements came in that they would ban the artiste if found guilty. Some say they are waiting for this to get over soon.
And with actor and politician Jaggesh remarking that it is the “outsiders” (non-Kannadigas) who tarnished the industry, some fear that Sandalwood may stand divided like in Bollywood. That said, industry insiders feel they would come out strong and the drug scandal will not impact the industry much.
“Whoever is accused, they are just one part of the industry and do not present the entire domain. So it’s not right to blame the entire industry. It’s just a passing phase and we will come out of it strong,” director TS Naghabharan said.
On the ‘insider vs outsider’ debate, Naghabarana said it is a small industry that has been generous to all. “There’s never an insider-outsider feeling that has set in so far. All are treated as artists under the same roof,” he said.
“The punishment for the offence and the investigation should be such that it should deter others from taking drugs. The government and film chamber should think of a long-lasting solution than coming up with knee-jerk reactions,” Naghabharana said.
Former member of the Karnataka Film Chamber of Commerce SA Chinnegowda, however, said it was not that such incidents never happened before, but they are now coming to light because the industry and the media have grown in size and things get exposed easily.
He also lauded actor and MP Jaya Bachchan for standing up for Bollywood, stating that those in Sandalwood should extend similar support without wedging rifts.
In the meantime, the Karnataka film chamber is struggling to act and make a collective decision as the actors and directors have separate bodies and it’s a bit unorganised at this point.
The Federal checked with a few artists to see whether the current controversies have impacted their work. All of them said, they have not.
“What the accused did could be in their personal capacity and not as part of the film chambers or association. So our work hasn’t been impacted. That said, there’s no call for a boycott of those people yet,” said Balaji, a stuntman in the industry.
How Tollywood survived the drug scandal in 2017
But the sandalwood industry has got something to hope for and learn from the Tollywood (Telugu) film industry.
A similar drug scandal shook Tollywood, the second biggest entertainment industry in the country after Bollywood, in 2017 when several celebrities associated with the tinsel world came under the radar. They were accused of maintaining regular contact with drug suppliers.
Popular actors Charmme Kaur, Ravi Teja and Navadeep, dancer Mumaith Khan, cinematographer Shyam K Naidu, art director Chinna and producer-director Puri Jagannath were among the Telugu stars who were questioned by the SIT.
However, the case, which had evoked widespread public outrage and breathless and incessant media coverage, died a natural death.
They were interrogated and subsequently allowed to leave. When the scandal broke out in 2017, the Telugu film body Movie Artistes’ Association (MAA) held a press conference and said that apart from a few members, everyone in the industry was clean.
The SIT had summoned the film personalities based on the details they gathered from the kingpin of Hyderabad drug racket Calvin Mascarenhas, who was arrested during the raid. The dealers were engaged in the supply of LSD (Lysergic Acid Diethylamide), MDMA (Methylene Dioxy Methamphetamine), referred to as ‘Ecstasy’, and other drugs.
The shocking part of the racket was that the drug peddlers were luring students, as young as 13 years, from several reputed schools in Hyderabad. The crackdown in July 2017 led to the arrest of 20 peddlers who made shocking revelations about their client list and their modus operandi.
The students from 25 top-ranking schools and 20 colleges and children of several VIPs, including bureaucrats and police officers were found to be among the addicts who were regularly procuring psychedelic drugs from the dealers.
But after a two-year-long probe, all the celebrities were given a clean chit. The SIT had filed four charge-sheets in the case but did not mention any of the celebrities.
“In an industry that employs over 30,000 people, a handful of people may be using drugs. It is our duty to get them out of the system. Unfortunately, the whole thing has become sensational,” noted producer D Suresh Babu and father of Rana Daggubati of ‘Baahubali’ fame had said at that time.