Bollywood megastar admits drug problem in India's film industry amid growing narcotics probe
One of India’s most famous stars has broken the silence about Bollywood’s drug issues, as police continue a massive narcotics investigation which has exposed the industry’s seedy underbelly.
Akshay Kumar, a Bollywood actor and martial artist, made the remarks online following the death of Sushant Singh Rajput, another high-profile figure in Indian showbusiness.
Mr Rajput’s body was found in June in his apartment in Mumbai and Indian police have said he took his own life.
The investigation into the 34-year-old's death expanded into a major drugs probe, with his former girlfriend, actress Rhea Chakraborty, arrested earlier this month for allegedly buying cannabis for him, which she denies.
Ms Chakraborty was interrogated for several weeks after being arrested, but has been cleared of murder allegations after evidence showed her partner had suffered mental health problems.
In an almost four-minute video about the case posted on his Twitter account on Saturday, Mr Kumar called on the industry's fans not to tar everyone in Bollywood with the same brush.
"With a hand on my heart, how can I lie and say that this (narcotics and drugs) problem doesn't exist in our industry," Kumar, 53, said in Hindi in a video watched more than 2.5 million times.
"It exists in our profession the same way problems exist in every other profession. But to say that everyone in every profession is involved in all its problems would be wrong."
Indian media has also joined calls for a wider investigation into the multibillion-dollar film industry's so-called "drugs mafia".
Several high-profile actresses including 34-year-old superstar Deepika Padukone, Sara Ali Khan, Shraddha Kapoor and Rakul Preet Singh have been taken in for questioning. All deny any wrongdoing.
Wider national interest in the Bollywood case peaked last month after TV channel TimesNow broadcast sections of WhatsApp conversation about procuring hash, alleging that the two people chatting were Ms Padukone and her manager.
Mr Rajput's family, meanwhile, has disputed reports the actor suffered from depression and have accused Ms Chakraborty of stealing his money and harassing him.
They also claim that she controlled his movements and his finances by the use of witchcraft.
Ms Chakraborty's lawyer, Satish Maneshinde, has said the actress is the victim of a literal “witch hunt.”
Her supporters say the case has also exposed a misogynistic streak in Indian society as many assumed that she was responsible for Rajput’s death, rather than mental health issues.
Ms Chakraborty, 28, who has been hounded for months by the media along with her family, has denied any wrongdoing.
“She was accused of everything from murder to stealing huge amounts of money,” Karuna Nundy, a Delhi-based human rights lawyer, told Deutsche Welle last month. “Now she has been accused of being part of a drug syndicate because she allegedly bought some marijuana at some point.”