Claims of drugs, witchcraft and death in Bollywood scandal that has gripped India

The probe into what police have called a ‘drugs cartel’ involving numerous Bollywood A-listers began after the death of actor Sushant Singh Rajput

NEW DELHI — It is a story worthy of a Bollywood movie, with claims of drug-taking, skulduggery and witchcraft. But should India’s filmmakers wish to dramatize the country’s latest high-society scandal, they need not look far — the saga involves their own actors.

In a move that has transfixed the country’s media, police have launched a probe into claims that numerous Bollywood A-listers have been involved in narcotics use. At the centre of the inquiry is 28-year-old actress Rhea Chakraborty, who has allegedly supplied detectives with the names of 25 leading industry figures.

The investigation into what police have called a “drugs cartel” began after the death of Chakraborty’s boyfriend, fellow actor Sushant Singh Rajput, 34. He committed suicide at his Mumbai apartment in June.

A rising star in Bollywood, Rajput grew up in India’s impoverished northern Bihar state, and was considered an emblem of growing social mobility in the country. But his death has led to bitter recriminations, with his family accusing Chakraborty of leading their son astray. They allege she controlled his movements and finances with witchcraft. Rajput’s father even accused her of poisoning his son and abetting in his suicide, a crime punishable by 10 years in prison.

Coupled with a leaked WhatsApp message in which Chakraborty is alleged to have discussed her drug use with Rajupt, the lurid claims led to the actress facing an unprecedented trial by newspapers and television.

Last month, India’s top criminal agency, the Central Bureau of Investigation, bowed to media pressure, and announced an inquiry. It’s expected to see all those implicated hauled in for questioning.


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Chakraborty endured weeks of interrogation and has been cleared of murder allegations after evidence proved her partner had suffered mental health problems. However, she remains in Mumbai’s Byculla Jail after her bail application was rejected, pending further investigation.

Activists said the case has highlighted a toxic misogyny in Indian public attitudes, as well as dangerously outdated views around mental health. Rather than accepting the possibility that Singh took his own life because he was depressed, it was blamed on her influence, they claimed. “She was accused of everything from murder to stealing huge amounts of money,” Karuna Nundy, a Delhi-based human rights lawyer, told the Deutsche Welle German news broadcaster. “Now she has been accused of being part of a drug syndicate because she allegedly bought some marijuana.”

As part of their wider crackdown on drug use in the Indian film industry, the authorities have also arrested two other actresses, Ragini Dwivedi and Sanjjanaa Galrani, who were linked to parties where drugs were found in the city of Bangalore.

The investigation into what police have called a “drugs cartel” began after the death by suicide of Bollywood actor Sushant Singh Rajput. PHOTO BY SUJIT JAISWAL/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES