Bollywood star Deepika Padukone has been questioned by India’s narcotics board in an investigation linked to the death of actor Sushant Singh Rajput.
Padukone was among six people – including two other actresses – to be summoned for questioning over the case.
Rajput’s girlfriend, Rhea Chakraborty, was arrested earlier this month for reportedly buying drugs for him – claims she has denied.
The Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) expanded its investigation of the case on Saturday by questioning Padukone for six hours in Mumbai.
Meanwhile, actresses Sara Ali Khan and Shraddha Kapoor were questioned independently at another of NCB’s offices. Rakul Preet Singh was also questioned on Friday.
None have been accused by the authorities of any criminality.
Rajput was found dead in his flat in Mumbai on 14 June. Police at the time said he had killed himself. But his family later registered a police complaint against Chakraborty, accusing her of abetment to suicide and other crimes.
Three federal agencies are investigating the case now. With investigators, a drip-feeding lump of information to the media, rumours and conjecture over what happened and who is responsible has been widespread.
What is the case about?
All three were arrested for reportedly organising and financing the actor’s alleged consumption of cannabis. The second investigation, which followed into claims of extensive drug use in Bollywood, according to media.
Officials have released few details of the investigation, which has only added to media speculation.
The attention was switched to Chakraborty in the days of Rajput’s death, who found herself at the centre of a storm of allegations and conspiracy theories. As part of their investigation, NCB officials said they were looking into WhatsApp chat messages in which Chakraborty allegedly discussed narcotics.
While marijuana is illegal in India while a derivative called bhang is legal and commonly used.
What does Deepika Padukone have to do with it?
According to local media reports, Narcotics officials say their questioning is based on WhatsApp chats involving Padukone and her managers. But it is still indistinct what these messages contain.
Some say she is being targeted because in January she visited a university where a group of students had been allegedly attacked by a mob of rival students linked to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). BJP supporters had accused the actress of trying to attract publicity for her new film and called for people to boycott it.
Officials claim that some drug dealers they questioned have named a few other actresses, according to the Times of India reports.
Social media users have also been asking why only actresses and why not actors have been called in for questioning. But a case that began with an investigation into an actor’s death has spiralled into something else altogether in the weeks since.
With a string of Bollywood insiders now in focus, the media circus around the case has only grown.
What has the reaction been?
The aggressive approach of television channels has led many to criticise their coverage. Over months, the media have spared none of the people around Rajput – his therapist, friends, family, colleagues and even his former cook, all have been sought out for interviews and exclusives.
And with a lack of official information, news channels have spent hours dissecting what little detail has been leaked.
In an attempt to show that Chakraborty was seemingly involved in Rajput’s finances, one television channel interprets alleged messages.
The anchor pointed to one such message which said “Imma bounce”. This concluded that this meant a bounced cheque. For the amusement of social media users, who quickly told that this was millennial slang for “I’m going to leave”.
While the inflexible media focus has prompted laughs and memes online, it has also encouraged plenty of criticism.
Many have questioned whether all the hours spent on this have distracted people from other pressing issues India is battling at the moment. Covid-19 caseload that is the second-highest in the world, an economy that has sharply contracted and rapidly worsens relations with China.