Bollywood in uproar amid drugs 'witch hunt'
It is a story worthy of a Bollywood movie, with claims of drug-taking, skulduggery and witchcraft. But should India's film makers wish to dramatise 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, including actors, producers and directors, according to India Today.
The investigation into what police have called a "cartel" began after the death of Ms Chakraborty's boyfriend, fellow actor Sushant Singh Rajput, 34.
Mr Rajput committed suicide at his flat in Mumbai's plush Bandra West neighbourhood in June.
A rising star in Bollywood, Mr Rajput grew up in India's impoverished northern Bihar state, and was considered an emblem of India's growing social mobility. But his death has led to bitter recriminations, with his family accusing Ms Chakraborty of leading their son astray.
She had, they alleged, controlled both his movements and his finances by the use of witchcraft. Mr Rajput's father even accused her of poisoning his son and abetting in his suicide - a crime punishable by ten years in prison.
Ms Chakrabotry has strongly denied the allegations and referred to the charges as a "witch hunt".
Coupled with a leaked WhatsApp message in which Ms Chakraborty is alleged to have discussed her drug use with Mr Rajupt, the lurid claims led to the actress facing an unprecedented trial by newspapers and television.
Police allege Ms Chakraborty is part of the Bollywood "cartel" which they claim is linked to the distribution of drugs in Mumbai, including marijuana. It is believed the stars bought drugs from criminal groups in the city that they then took at industry parties.
Last month, India's top criminal agency, the Central Bureau of Investigation, allegedly bowed to media pressure and announced an inquiry. It is expected to see all the stars allegedly implicated in the affair hauled in for questioning.
Ms Chakraborty endured weeks of interrogation after being arrested, and has already been cleared of murder allegations after evidence proved her partner had suffered mental health problems.
However, she remains in Mumbai’s overcrowded Byculla Jail after her bail application was rejected, pending further investigation.
Ms Chakraborty's lawyer, Satish Maneshinde, echoed his client and said that the trial was a "witch hunt". He argued she was only guilty of loving Mr Rajput Singh.
Activists say 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 Mr Singh took his own life because he was depressed, it was blamed automatically on a malign female influence.
“She was accused of everything from murder to stealing huge amounts of money,” Karuna Nundy, a Delhi-based human rights lawyer, told Deutsche Welle.
“Now she has been accused of being part of a drug syndicate because she allegedly bought some marijuana at some point.”
As part of its 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 allegedly linked to parties where drugs were found in the city of Bangalore.