Bollywood actress Rhea Chakraborty won bail on Wednesday, nearly a month after being arrested for allegedly buying drugs for her former boyfriend and actor Sushant Singh Rajput, whose death sparked a media storm in India.
Sushant, 34, was found dead in June in his Mumbai apartment, triggering a national frenzy with television news channels speculating that Rhea drove him to kill himself with cannabis and black magic.
A star with many hits to his name, Sushant's death initially triggered a debate over mental health in India's multi-billion-dollar movie industry. But his family disputed reports that he suffered from depression and accused Rhea, 28, of stealing his money and harassing him.
She has strongly denied the allegations.
On Wednesday, a court in Mumbai ordered the actress to be released on bail, her lawyer Satish Maneshinde said, calling it a victory for "truth and justice".
The court said the actress was not part of any drug syndicate and had no criminal record.
It said Rhea could not have financed or supported illegal drug trafficking as alleged by the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB).
Noting that the NCB's charges did not mention the involvement of drugs in commercial quantities, the court said spending money on procuring drugs for Sushant "does not mean that she had financed illicit traffic".
"The judge found that the quantity (of drugs involved) was very less," Mr Maneshinde told NDTV. "It was not equivalent to the quantity that can be traded."
Rhea was released from Bycula District Prison in Mumbai. Her brother Showik, who was also arrested last month, remains in custody.
Rhea and her family have been hounded by Indian media who have spent months obsessing over the case, with some celebrities including actresses Vidya Balan and Sonam Kapoor accusing TV channels of carrying out a "witch hunt" against her.
The TV channels have since spent months covering the case, at the expense of other issues such as India's stalling economy, the government's Covid-19 response and growing hostilities with China over a border dispute.
Asked about the vilification of Rhea, Mr Maneshinde said "corrupt journalists" were simply hunting for Target Rating Points as no stories were coming during the Covid-19 pandemic.
"The arrest and custody of Rhea was totally unwarranted and beyond the reach of law," he said.
"The Bombay High Court and the Supreme Court are examining the role of the media trial. One channel was discussing my fees and my cars and my office.
"I saw an attack on social media. How is my fee of any concern to them (news anchors)?"
Bollywood celebrities also celebrated the bail granted to Rhea.
"Finally!!! She gets bail!!!," filmmaker Anubhav Sinha tweeted.
Actress Taapsee Pannu hoped Rhea's time in jail "has sufficed the egos of a lot of people out there who in the name of justice for Sushant fulfilled their personal and professional agendas".
"Praying she doesn't become bitter towards the life she has ahead of her. Life is unfair but at least it's not over as yet," Taapsee added.
Actor Farhan Akhtar took a dig at the news anchors who reported against Rhea. "Any shrill anchors apologising for the hell they put #RheaChakraborty and her family through? Didn't think so. But watch them shift the goalpost now... they're notorious for that," he tweeted.
Mr Maneshinde said Rhea is still not out of the woods but the "Bengal tigress will fight back".
"Sushant Rajput's family looks very vindictive," he said. "She is being hounded because she was the girlfriend of Sushant, she was the live-in partner. She was almost like the housewife
"She will fight all those idiots. The shameless people who destroyed her image are lining up outside my office for my interview."
India's top anti-crime agency, the Central Bureau of Investigation, has been probing Sushant's death since August, while the NCB has been looking into his consumption of cannabis.
The New Delhi-based All India Institute of Medical Sciences completed its forensic examination earlier this month and reportedly ruled that the actor had died by suicide, not murder, dismissing the speculative claims made by some TV channels.
The saga has now morphed into a probe into drug use in Bollywood, with police hauling in superstar Deepika Padukone and other actresses for questioning last month.
AFP, Indo-Asian News Service