Baby don’t smoke: Telangana anti-narcotics bureau puts Tollywood movies under scanner after drug bust

Movie director, son of former MP from Andhra Pradesh, arrested, several others, including an actor, are on the run.

ByDeepika Pasham

Published Sep 15, 2023 | 12:30 PM Updated Sep 15, 2023 | 12:30 PM

Three Nigerians were among those arrested. (Supplied)

Baby, the coming-of-age romantic Telugu drama captivated the audience besides catapulting its lead actress, Vaishnavi Chaitanya, into instant stardom. The anti-narcotic bureau in Telangana, however, is not impressed.

The movie had a scene in which Vaishnavi, and another character, rolling Odet-Cascadec-Bollore (OCD) paper, licking the outer edges and pasting it before lighting up the roll. For the anti-narcotic bureau, it smelt like marijuana.

Incensed by the blatant depiction of smoking, the bureau issued a notice to the producers to explain the scene. “We will do the needful,” the movie makers responded.

The Telangana State Anti-Narcotics Bureau (TSANB) has enough reasons to be alarmed upon seeing the scene in Baby.

It has been closely monitoring drug abuse in the industry, and its director CV Anand revealed that 11 persons, including a Tollywood director and the son of a former MP from Andhra Pradesh, were arrested with drugs.

Of the 11 arrested, three were Nigerian nationals, he said on Thursday, 14 September.

Actor Navdeep under scanner; denies involvement

The arrests have not been completed. Eighteen others, including actor Navdeep, are on the run, the TSNAB said. The missing suspects included three suppliers, two peddlers, and 13 users.

The TSNAB seized 2.8 gram cocaine, six LSD blots, 25 ecstasy pills, 20 gram ganja from the accused. (Supplied)

The TSNAB seized 2.8 gram cocaine, six LSD blots, 25 ecstasy pills, 20 gram ganja from the accused. (Supplied)

The actor, however, denied his involvement. Navdeep said he was still in Hyderabad. “That is not me, gentlemen. I am right here, Please Clarify, Thanks,” he posted on X, formerly Twitter.

The TSNAB identified those arrested as Amobi Chukwudi Muonagolu (29), Igbawre Michael (32), and Thomas Anagha Kalu (49), all from Nigeria, alleged peddler Kappa Bhaskar Balaji, party organiser K Venkatratna Reddy, and consumers D Murali, film director Anugu Sushant Reddy, Suresh Devarkonda (son of ex-MP Devarkonda Vittal Rao), Kolli Ramchand, Kurapati Sandeep and Srikar Krishna Praneeth.

The police seized 2.8 gram of cocaine, six LSD blots, 25 ecstasy pills, and 20 gram of marijuana from them.

Nigerian Muonagolu came to India in May 2020 on a business visa and settled in Bengaluru. He joined a football club in Yelahanka and started selling drugs to make easy money, the police said.

Michael came to New Delhi in 2022 on a medical visa. He met Muonagolu whenever he visited Bengaluru, and procured drugs which he sold in Bengaluru and Hyderabad. Thomas reached Mumbai in 2015 on a business visa and settled in Bengaluru.

Anand identified Muonagolu as a member of the All India Nigerian Students and Community Association. He would help the community members in raising funds under a trust to meet the expenses for deportation, legal fees, etc.

Bank account frozen

Anand said the trio had regular customers in Hyderabad. A few days ago, a former Indian Navy officer Kapa Bhaskar Balaji (who was arrested earlier), and Ram (currently absconding) had come to purchase drugs from them. The Nigerians found out that after purchasing they were selling it to their customers in Hyderabad. Balaji, a resident of Nellore in Andhra Pradesh, allegedly used Snapchat for selling drugs.

Balaji’s arrest on 31 August led TSNAB to another person, K Venkatratna Reddy, a film producer in Tollywood.

“He had a balance of ₹5.5 crore in his Bank of America account, which we have frozen now. We are also planning to attach their properties,” Anand said.

The officer added that several other suspected consumers have switched off their mobile phones. They included Arjun, owner of Terra Cafe and Bistro in Jubilee Hills, and producer Ravi Uppalapati. “They are absconding and will soon be caught,” he said.

‘Not inimical towards Tollywood’

Anand clarified that the police were not inimical towards Tollywood, but since movies would influence a large section of the people, they should be careful while portraying any drug-related scenes.

“Those scenes send a message that it is right to do it. Our focus will be now on movies too and we will not spare even Bollywood films,” he said.

Displaying one of the scenes from the recent release Baby, Anand said: “The producer of the movie has been issued an advisory notice to explain the reasons behind heroine Vaishnavi Chaitanya and another character played by Kirrak Seetha are rolling the OCB paper and licking it and smoking it which portrays that the characters are smoking ganja,” he said.

The notice has shocked the makers.

“The character’s life is at risk if the police are displaying the scene. We will do the needful according to the police,” they told South First.