Kerala's movie industry has long been accused of star-driven cartels and patent misogyny. But the arrest of actor Dileep last night as a prime accused in the abduction and molestation of a popular actress has dragged it to a new low in the state: criminalisation of cinema.
Dileep is no small man. He is one of the top three "super-stars" in Kerala and arguably one of the richest, with commercial interests in the entire movie value chain. As a key office-bearer of the all-powerful AMMA (Association of Malayalam Movie Artists) and FEOUK (Film Exhibitors United Organisation of Kerala) — a conglomerate of producers, distributors and theatre-owners — he is also powerful organisationally.
Dileep is no small man. He is one of the top three "super-stars" in Kerala and arguably one of the richest.
Although known mostly for his slapsticks, he has won the prestigious state government award for the best actor and has even impressed the state's arthouse legend Adoor Gopalakrishnan, who cast him as the lead in his latest movie.
According to police, Dileep allegedly contracted a driver with criminal antecedents to abduct and record a demeaning video of a fellow actress to settle his personal score. Based on the conspiracy they hatched, the driver, along with a few accomplices, allegedly abducted her while she was on the way to Kochi from her home, molested her and recorded it on video. The actress, with help from a local Congress MLA and friends in the industry, filed a police complaint which led to the arrest of the prime accused and his accomplices within a few days of the incident.
Although the police and the government initially tried to close the case as a one-off blackmail crime planned and executed by the driver, the media and the opposition were not willing to buy the argument.
The state's TV channels relentlessly speculated the possible involvement of Dileep and wanted the government to pursue the larger conspiracy angle even as the chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan dismissed such a possibility and asserted that it was a crime that "originated in the head" of the driver.
The reason why the media picked on Dileep was his reported animosity towards the actress, who herself had accused him of edging her out of the industry using his "superstar" clout. The actor's alleged grouse against her was that she sided with his estranged wife Manju Warrier — an award winning actress who retired early after her marriage with him — and had even reported to her his proximity to another actress, Kavya Madhavan, whom he married later.
Warrier is now back with a bang, while Madhavan has become a suspect in the eyes of the public and the media. Some even consider the crime as a fallout of the rivalry between the ex and the present wife.
While the government appeared to have ignored the conspiracy charges, many in the industry always suspected Dileep's hand in the crime because a petty criminal couldn't have got this daring without the backing of an insider. Probably, sensing the principal conspirator(s) getting off the hook, some prominent women actors and technicians quickly formed a new organisation called Women's Collective in Cinema (WCC) and met with the chief minister.
In fact, Manju Warrier was the first to raise the conspiracy angle.
One of their requests was the investigation of the conspiracy angle in the case. It was not surprising that Manju Warrier led the WCC delegation when they met the chief minister. In fact, Warrier was the first to raise the conspiracy angle.
Whether it was because of the pressure from WCC or the media, the police continued to investigate and finally arrested Dileep after four months since the crime occurred. According to media reports, the police have collated considerable evidence to implicate the actor and he is in serious trouble. With the best conviction rate in the country, the state police might be able to prove his involvement and send him to jail.
What's more interesting is that Dileep's arrest has proven the long-held charges of a section of Malayalam cinema that it's controlled by a cartel of a few men and their supplicants. In fact, it's factually true that a few powerful men — the top three stars and people close to them — have a vice-like grip on the industry.
Either they or their proxies are at the helm of all the associations in the industry without whose patronage one cannot find work. Unlike in other industries, it's a single monopoly that gives no space for dissent. The stars control everything and those who fall out of favour lose everything. The actress who survived the abduction and molestation is one of those who fell out of favour. There are many more like her including a friend of hers, who had to migrate to Tamil.
What's more interesting is that Dileep's arrest has proven the long-held charges of a section of Malayalam cinema that it's controlled by a cartel of a few men and their supplicants.
The two organisations that perpetuate this monopoly in the Malayalam movie industry are AMMA and FEFKA (Film Employees Federation of Kerala). While the actors cannot survive without the blessing of AMMA, FEFKA does the same for technicians. And both are controlled by the proxies of the stars. Recently, the distribution networks also came under their control when Dileep engineered the creation of FEUOK. Probably, no other movie industry in India is afflicted by such monopolistic inbreeding because it's too small to accommodate multiple power structures.
There have been several cases of explicit and implicit bans imposed on actors and technicians by these two organisation for questioning the whims of the stars. Thilakan, one of the greatest actors Malayalam cinema has ever produced, had accused both AMMA and FEFKA for behaving like "mafias". Once an indispensable part of Malayalam cinema, he was out of work in his final years because of the ban. Similarly, Vinayan, a director, was also banished from the industry for a decade; however he fought back through a petition in the competition commission, which finally found the office-bearers of both AMMA and FEFKA guilty and imposed penalties on them. In fact, there are several actors and technicians who are without work for years because of the bans on them.
Thilakan, one of the greatest actors Malayalam cinema has ever produced, had accused both AMMA and FEFKA for behaving like "mafias".
Dileep's arrest has thoroughly exposed both AMMA and FEFKA because both failed to take an unreserved stand in the crime against the actress. In its last meeting, AMMA not only didn't raise the abduction issue of the actress, who incidentally is its member, but also tried to equate her plight with Dileep for the charges against them. Three key officer-bearers — an MP and two MLAs backed by the CPM — declared their support for Dileep and were categorical that the actor was being wilfully victimised.
In fact, instead of focusing on the conspiracy against the actress, AMMA appeared to have been more interested in the alleged conspiracy against Dileep. The head of FEFKA also dismissed the charges against Dileep as speculative. AMMA even failed to convene a special session to discuss the issue despite requests from a few members. In retrospect, AMMA has unpardonably equated the survivor with the alleged perpetrator (Dileep).
The state is visibly angry. Protestors took out marches in different parts of the state and attacked business establishments owned by Dileep while activists and critics from within in the industry intensified their criticism of men's monopoly. Will this be the trigger that will begin dismantling the patriarchal and classist monopoly within the industry? Will it cleanse the industry off the misogynists and criminals that the monopoly feasts on?
Some successful new generation directors say it will. Whether it happens or not, the big old men will have to lie low for some time. Meanwhile, Manju Warrier too is trending on social media along with Dileep.