Malayalam actress assault case: Dileep’s PR blitzkrieg could backfire as cops, court keep close watch
Once omnipotent in Mollywood (as the Malayalam film industry is colloquially called), Dileep is now cloistered in the Aluva sub-jail, awaiting the Kerala High Court's decision regarding his bail plea. Outside, 'Team Dileep' has unleashed a PR campaign that is aimed at tilting the scales of perception in the actor's favour, on social media.
Over the four days from the date of his arrest, to his bail plea being denied by the Angamaly Judicial Magistrate, the social media space in Kerala has been bombarded with messages from what appear to be professional public relation groups.
The ‘Support Dileep’ campaign has reached such a fever pitch that the top brass of the Kerala Police have confirmed to Firstpost that pro-active steps towards glorification of an accused — and that too in an alleged rape case — could invite legal action.
“There are treading on a very fine line at the moment and we are keeping a close watch on their activities over social media. Police will certainly intervene if there is an attempt to go beyond what is legal — like attacking the investigation team or propagating wrong information to create a law and order situation. If they continue at this rate, they may soon cross over to the other side of the law — which will call for action,’’ inspector general of Police Manoj Abraham, who is also the nodal officer of Kerala Police Cyberdome, told Firstpost.
The police have also told Firstpost that the cyber cell at the state police headquarters is monitoring social media 24/7 to detect any adverse comments about the survivor-actress (in whose assault and abduction case, Dileep has been charged as an alleged conspirator). “Let me make one thing very clear. Any attempt to name or insult or defame the victim on social media will be dealt with severely,’’ added the IG.
Not just the cops, the judiciary too is keenly taking note of what is transpiring over the internet. That the prosecution had raised the issue while objecting to Dileep’s bail at the Angamaly Magistrate’s court goes on to show that this PR campaign is certainly becoming an element in this case.
Certainly not as part of the larger legal battle, but towards delaying Dileep’s interim relief in the form of bail, it seems be playing a part. It is also fast becoming counter productive.
“If the prosecution is making an allegation that the accused has now employed certain people to purposefully create an impression on social media and in the minds of the people that he was being made a scapegoat, then that will increase the burden further on the prosecution. This is an argument the court could very well consider,’’ CP Udayabhanu, special public prosecutor, told Firstpost.
Certainly the social media campaign kicked off by Dileep’s team might have impressed a few but its damage in the long run could impact the actor himself. “This is a time they should have maintained silence. Instead, you are going out on a glorification campaign for the accused actor. If it is to change public perception, I doubt its impact because people can easily see through these narratives. Also the question is, shouldn’t Dileep’s team concentrate more on fighting the case itself than on such social media campaigns?’’ asks senior journalist Sunnykutty Abraham.
The Modus Operandi
It was not social media that got going first. It was a politician who first came forward with unconditional support to Dileep. While PC George’s intentions in expressing support for the actor over news channels just minutes after he got arrested on 10 July reek of political opportunism, it provided the much needed fodder for pro-Dileep cannons to open up.
“The government wants to divert public attention from the real issues facing the state like fever death, nurses’ strike, price rise and more. For this, the government is fixing Dileep of which I have no doubt,’’ George told Firstpost.
That the attack on the actress (in February 2017) and the subsequent arrest of Dileep (on 10 July) sank all other issues from the minds of the people is perhaps representative of the times in which we live, but to label it as deliberate witch-hunting perhaps defies logic — especially when the investigating agency has put forth 19 crucial evidence against the accused.
But for Dileep’s team, this gave the much-needed victimisation thrust. Overnight, at least close to a dozen new websites with acronyms of the most varied kind appeared on the internet, carrying stories of Dileep the Good Samaritan, of Dileep the beloved ‘ettan’ (big brother in Malayalam) and the person whose charity work knows no bounds.
That the same argument of “having the need to continue with his charity” is used by the defence lawyer as a reason to get bail from the High Court comes across as more than just a coincidence.
While those in the film world who have been close to Dileep had been using Facebook and Twitter to drum up support of for the fallen star, there are a number of others with differing voices who say that say such rampant offence and defence is the hallmark of organised public relation activity, a part and parcel of the film world.
Insiders in the industry say that with more than Rs 60 crore already resting on Dileep’s shoulders in terms of the new projects that he had committed to before going behind bars, some of the producers would not actually mind spending a few more crores on PR work for the actor — if it would help turning the tide as far as his wrecked image is concerned.
“There is credible evidence that money is being spent on these efforts in a big way, otherwise how do you explain the overnight cropping up of news websites and other online media which can be managed only by professionals?’’ asked Sunnykutty Abraham.
If sources are to be believed, a consortium of public relation consultants based out of Kochi are behind the entire operation, with professionals finding ways to negate all that is against the actor and focus on his good work in films and with charitable organisations.
The game plan, as some say, is perhaps not to influence the case with such gimmicks, which is too far-fetched a thought, but to clear the ground for a smooth entry back into the industry as and when Dileep can.
The words of Dileep’s brother Anoop a day after he was arrested gives it away that Team Dileep is already up for the long haul. “Let them play their game and come to a finish first. We will then start the real game from our side,’’ Anoop had told mediapersons.
Many in the industry also say that this was not an expected reaction from Dileep’s camp and their reasoning comes from a few similarities from recent history.
Though this is the first time that the actor is facing a crisis of unprecedented proportions, this is not the first time that he has used the PR strategy for crisis management.
“When his family life fell apart after his divorce in 2015, then also he had used such PR techniques to hold up his image. Worse than that, he employed these dirty tricks when Manju Warrier, his former wife, returned to movies. She was insulted all over social media by those paid by him. So this is nothing new. Dileep and his team can stoop to any level for cheap publicity,’’ Alleppy Ashraf, a director and veteran in the film industry who has followed Dileep over the years, told Firstpost.
Press Is The Primary Target
It has been an unrelenting two weeks for the local press in Kerala which had been chasing the case with so much passion that many-a-times, allegations of ‘trial by media’ have echoed from many quarters.
Most of the top notch news anchors across channels have been under relentless attack too on social media by groups that claim to be fans of Dileep. A small-time television actress, Anitha Nair’s video of foul-mouthed tirade against a well-known Malayalam news anchor is a classic example of how not just professional PR groups, but certain individuals from the entertainment industry, have taken on the mantle of defending the accused actor aimed at some future vested interest.
“This is an understandable phenomenon. There is a section which feels confident that Dileep will make a grand re-entry. So their calculation is: let’s back him now and throw filth at anyone who questions him and we shall reap the benefits once he is back. That’s the mentality of such people,’’ says well-known director Ali Akbar.
Activists on the other hand, say that there is a certainly a reason for the Kerala media being a target of Dileep supporters' ire. “I strongly feel had it not been for the press in Kerala, this arrest would not have happened. One of the primary reasons the government gathered its will to arrest a person like Dileep is due to the extreme pressure that the vernacular press — especially the news channels with their primetime discussions — were able to build. It also gave an avenue to activists to voice gender sensitivity concerns too,’’ CR Neelkandan, noted social activist, told Firstpost.
Activists are also questioning why these PR groups and Dileep supporters shy away from questioning the state government or the home department if they think that Dileep is being made a scapegoat.
Activists added that any animosity created between the actor and the government would only backfire on the former while fighting his case. It is a possibility that Team Dileep knows only too well.