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On a high: (Clockwise from top left) Sanjay Dutt in the ’80s, Fardeen Khan and Vijay Raaz

He is an actor with a squeaky-clean image, often hailed as a devoted family man. When the family is not looking, though, he consumes hard drugs. Just like the actress who used to once come for a shoot only after a shot of cocaine. Quite like the happening couple in Bollywood who have been snorting coke to remain fresh for a while.

Ho-hum, so what else is new, they would say in Mumbai’s film industry. After all, the fact that the jet-setting crowd of Bollywood is into substance abuse is well known ' if you go by the sheer number of police cases that have been filed in recent times.

But the spotlight is on Mumbai again, sharpened by the furore that the Rahul Mahajan case has kicked up. Mahajan, son of the late BJP minister Pramod Mahajan, was released on bail on Wednesday in a case relating to the use of drugs. Another accused in the case ' Sahil Zaroo ' is known in Mumbai, though here he is referred to as Sahil Kashmiri. A regular at celebrity parties, he is the one people get in touch with when they are in need of drugs at short notice. And the police are said to be looking at people in Bollywood to whom Zaroo supplied drugs.

A top police officer believes that 80 per cent of Bollywood’s stars are into drugs. “Some are filmmakers and we have statements of some actors in some cases as well,” says the officer who holds that the police have been ordered not to speak to the press on the issue.

A source at the Narcotics Control Bureau in Mumbai who spoke on condition that he would not be identified adds that drug abuse is rampant in Bollywood and that it has gone up in the last 10 years. “A famous Bollywood action star, a famous singer who was a judge in the talent search programmes, a famous Bollywood star who has gained a lot of notoriety and who pumps iron and, of course, Fardeen Khan are those who have come under our surveillance.”

That’s not really surprising ' for the chequered history of Bollywood showcases the problem of drugs in use. First there was actor Sanjay Dutt, who confessed that he used drugs. In 2000, Ali, a drugpeddler, was arrested in New Delhi. His diary revealed a few names, including that of actress Manisha Koirala. A year later, actor Fardeen Khan was arrested along with a drug peddler, Naseer Abdul Kareem Khan.

In 2003, four Indians, including G.P. Sippy’s grandson Shaan Uttam Singh,were arrested and later released in Dubai after drugs were found in their car and their hotel room. In February, 2005, actor Vijay Raaz was detained and later arrested at Abu Dhabi airport for allegedly possessing hashish. Just recently, model Shivani Kapoor, who was slated to debut in Sanjay Bhansali’s next film, admitted that she was on a detoxification programme.

“Drugs help actors deal with sheer boredom or too much work,” says Yusuf Merchant, president of the Drug Abuse Information Rehabilitation and Research Centre. “The life of a celebrity is event-based. They don’t know how to cope with it if it is less or more eventful than what they want. That is why Bollywood stars get into drugs.”

Insiders believe that the use of marijuana is common in Bollywood. Cocaine and heroin are in use, too, though some say it’s not rampant. “Drug abuse affects all types of people across geographies and demographics,” stresses Amit Khanna, president of the Film & Television Guild. “Pressure-cooker lives, heightened insecurities and peer pressure are leading many young people up the path of self-destruction,” he says.

And Bollywood, Khanna says, is no exception. “But I do not think drug abuse (or even use) is rampant in Bollywood. There may be a few who would be indulging in this.”

Not many agree. “Today, the demand for cocaine is very high among actors. It shows off their exclusivity. They make a statement,” says Mumbai-based psychiatrist Harish Shetty, who believes that not just Bollywood but the city’s elite is high on drugs. “For celebrities, it is more of a fashion issue today,” he says.

Insiders hold that while cocaine and heroin are in use, a host of new and costly designer drugs ' such as methylene dio-xymethamphetamine or MD-MA (better known as Ecstacy) and phencyclidine or PCP ' have entered the market now. A tablet of Ecstasy comes for Rs 300-400. One gram of heroin is for Rs 100 or 200, depending on the quality. Cocaine comes for Rs 3,000-6,000 a gram.

One of the reasons drugs are rampant is because they are not hard to get. One of the easy venues for drugs, for instance, is a nondescript lodge, allegedly controlled by a group of Africans, in the highly populated Mohammed Ali Road area in Mumbai. The police are nowhere to be seen and at any point of time some 250 people are taking drugs there.

The red-light district of Kamathipura also shields drug peddlers holed up with commercial sex workers. They supply to middlemen who give it to film and TV stars. “Some of them even come and buy it directly,” says a former user. Colaba is where African drug sellers rule. They used to earlier operate out of Mira Road and Vashi, New Bombay, till a police crackdown forced them to return to south Bombay.

The possession of one gram of cocaine attracts a six-month jail sentence and holding two grams or more can lead to a jail term of 10 years or more. But, clearly, it’s also the thrill of the danger involved that eggs users on. Says Merchant, “For celebrities, taking drugs is a way of saying, ‘Hey I’ve arrived.’ One gets quick fame in Bollywood. Most of them are not prepared to deal with this fame, and need something to keep them going.”

The flip side of drug use, as filmmaker-actress Pooja Bhatt stresses, is the fact that performances get affected. “A drug makes an impact on you ' period. It most certainly alters your state of mind and your physical being. And basically it numbs you. But when you act, you need to be anything but numb,” she says.

In the industry, there are gory stories about people hooked on drugs and how it affects their films. One filmmaker who worked with a star who was then an addict recalls how his star cast was kept waiting by the actor who would only come in when he felt fresh after an intake of drugs.

Then there is the story of an actor and a show organiser who had to undergo financial losses because of a starlet who kept him waiting at the airport before a show abroad. He had to leave without her ' she had passed out after a heavy dose of drugs.

Still, not everybody is greatly perturbed by the use of drugs in an industry given to a high burn-out rate. As former actor Feroz Khan famously remarked when his son, Fardeen, was arrested: “Why single out Fardeen' Eight out of 10 kids in Bollywood are drug users.”

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