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Drugs: The Bollywood connect

In the NCB’s crackdown on drug nexus in Bollywood, strangely only names of female actors have tumbled out

Drugs: The Bollywood connect
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Around this time in 2013, I spent several hours at the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) in Delhi. Now before your imagination gets the better of you, let me clarify, that it was for a story. 20-year-old NRI Anmol Sarna had mixed uppers and downers and had died under mysterious circumstances. He had had a 'bad trip' — his high laced with LSD (Lysergic Acid Diethylamide), better known as 'acid', and alcohol. He had even been bashed up by security guards at his friend's residential complex in Kalkaji, who couldn't decipher his hedonistic behaviour. It's still unknown what actually caused the young man's death — the cocktail of drugs or the brutal thrashing.

In the hours that I spent at the NCB office speaking to some of its top officials, one thing was certain — their fight was a serious one. In that year alone, the NCB had busted a methamphetamine or crystal meth lab in Vairapuram, Tamil Nadu seizing 5.77 kg of meth. Between April 2012 and March 2013, Maharashtra had accounted for 40kg of ATS (Amphetamine-Type Stimulants such as ecstasy and speed) seizure. Ketamine seizures in Maharashtra amounted to 2,000 kg, followed by Tamil Nadu with 600 kg. NCB had also waged a war on internet pharmacies that export drugs to the doorsteps of Indians. Anmol had used drugs procured online. While I still believed that certain herbal drugs should be legalised, monetised and hence, controlled in India, there was definitely a need to stop the proliferation of dangerous chemicals and banned substances. I came away impressed at the NCB's tenacity.

Over the years, the NCB maintained its ante against drug peddlers and producers. Just in September this year, the NCB has made several seizures of several kilograms of heroin, curated marijuana or bud, cocaine, opium, psychotropic tablets, etc. Their work is relentless, and I remember what the senior officials had told me — we need to cut the supply rather than go after every recreational drug user. How could they? According to the 2019 National Survey on Extent and Pattern of Substance Abuse in India, around three crore people use cannabis in the country.

Therefore, this week was rather surprising when I learnt two things — the NCB's latest war was to clean up Bollywood, and as a consequence, only female actors seem to be smoking the peace pipe. The former being part of the agency's investigation into the Sushant Singh Rajput death case has now widened into a witch-hunt for dope-heads within the film fraternity. The latter is more curious — the names of only female actors have come out so far — Sara Ali Khan, Shraddha Kapoor, Rakul Preet Singh, and the latest being, Deepika Padukone. So, either Bollywood actors don't smoke up, or they are more into the harder designer drugs rather than the herbal variants and are definitely more adept at covering up their trails. Down south, it's the same story with Kannada actors, Sanjjanaa Galrani and Ragini Dwivedi facing the Central Crime Branch (CCB) heat.

If the NCB is indeed probing the drug nexus in the Hindi film industry, they must widen their purview and discard the gender lens. There are long-standing stories of A-list male actors who routinely snort snow a.k.a. cocaine, before workouts, during shoots, and obviously, at parties. Therefore, the NCB's modus operandi in rounding up female actors for some 'maal' seems more gender-biased than an actual investigation. In the past, male celebrities have been busted for possessing contraband — Fardeen Khan in 2001 for cocaine, Vijay Raaz in 2005 for marijuana, and DJ Aqeel in 2007 with ecstasy. But obviously, the bigger names know better than to carry contraband on their person or at airports. Several from the film industry have confessed to being addicted to drugs in the past — Mahesh Bhatt, Sanjay Dutt, Ranbir Kapoor, Kangana Ranaut to name a few.

Sources say that the drug cases against the female actors based on WhatsApp chats or even a few grams of possession are unlikely to stick as the quantity of drugs determines the punishment. But the media circus surrounding the alleged Bollywood-drug nexus will linger in our memories. At this point, one could make a case to take a relook at the Narcotics Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act. So, what's with the wild goose chase? Cleaning up the system? The NCB has already been doing an excellent job of it. Or rather a deflection from other pressing matters in the country that are passing by unopposed and unnoticed — farm bills, labour code bills, rising joblessness, plummeting economy. Time to ponder!

The writer is an author and media entrepreneur. Views expressed are personal

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