Dileep's return to AMMA highlights a problematic culture that protects perpetrators of abuse
Dileep returns to AMMA while investigation of Malayalam actress abduction case is still on: What happens if he is proven guilty?
castShane Nigam, Ann Sheetal, Shine Tom Chacko, Leona Lishoy, Jaffer Idukki
If you are a young person just figuring out your views on rights issues, Ishq is a great case study of what we are likely to get when feminism is a fad, a formula or a superficial pursuit for a filmmaker, not a sincere commitment and a deeply understood, carefully-thought-out ideological stance.
Director Anuraj Manohar’s debut feature begins with a knife-like indictment of what has come to be called “moral policing”. This part of the film is brilliant in its interpretation of the social dynamic that causes a woman to stay on in a dangerous, potentially fatal situation because the option – which would mean her family finding out that she was making out with her boyfriend in the backseat of a car in a darkened parking lot – is, to her mind, far worse.
Ishq stars Ann Sheetal as the woman in question, Vasudha. She is an MA student spending the day with her boyfriend Sachidanandan (Shane Nigam) when two creepy strangers accost them, threatening to report them to the police for public indecency. This is a hostage scenario not because the intruders are carrying firearms (they are not) nor because they physically attack (they do not), instead their hold over Vasu and Sachi comes from a thorough grasp of the couple’s psychology and the sociology of that setting.
Sachi is the sort of young man who tends to get aggressive with anyone behaving inappropriately, in his opinion, with Vasu. He is not, however, a hyper-masculine ass. There in that lonely parking lot, he knows that any mindless aggression from him could put both of them, her in particular, at risk. He also knows that if their rendezvous becomes public knowledge, it is she who will be maligned more than he in their conservative patriarchal society. He therefore defers to her decision about how they must conduct themselves in those chilling circumstances.
Like the creeps in the car in director Sanal Kumar Sasidharan’s S. Durga aka Sexy Durga, the two men in this film – Alwin (Shine Tom Chacko) and Mukunthan (Jaffer Idukki) – simultaneously play good-cop-bad-cop and a cat and mouse game with their prey, intimidating them even while pretending to be concerned about their security. The characterisation of these four and the writing of the events that unfold in the pre-interval segment of Ishq are impeccable and insightful.
Writer Ratheesh Ravi’s acute observation powers are on display here, and Anuraj Manohar handles the scenes with sensitivity. Vasu’s tension and Sachi’s frustration over his forced inaction are palpable. As frightening as the awareness that she might be raped or that matters might escalate resulting in death for both is the realisation that what Alwin lusts after is the woman’s fear far more than physical contact with her. This is the most illuminating aspect of Ishq because it points to what feminist experts on sexual crimes have forever been telling us: that sexual violence is not about sex but about power.
Without giving away any spoilers, I can say that even the scene right before the interval is spot on. The way Vasu lashes out at Sachi is believable although she is being unfair to him and contradicting a position she took earlier – after all, human beings do tend to be illogical and even unreasonable while under extreme stress. Sachi’s reaction is just as believable – this world is full of men whose liberalism towards women is only skin deep, but it is just as possible that she misconstrued a question he asked her. The writer’s comprehension of Malayali society and human nature, which are evident up to here, gave me goosebumps.
Then, it all unravels. A film that is at first a condemnation of patriarchal conservatism spends almost its entire remaining 50 percent celebrating machismo, before a twist in the end brings it back on track by which time it is too late.
Ishq is a manifestation of our society’s disinterest in regular folk who react in a regular fashion to sexual violence aimed at them or their loved ones. This is why we as a nation bestowed the offensive title Nirbhaya (The Fearless One) on a woman who died after being gangraped on a bus in Delhi in December 2012 – it was as if she was not worth fighting for unless we could envision her as a Rani of Jhansi cum Joan of Arc. This is why vigilante justice in response to rape is popular in mainstream cinema. Films such as 22 Female Kottayam and Puthiya Niyamam stopped at romanticising revenge though. Ishq goes several steps further in its highly condemnable, self-contradictory second half.
(SPOILER ALERT, please skip this paragraph. Repeat: Spoiler Alert)
By Aashika Ravi
After the whirlwind that shook Hollywood in the form of the #MeToo movement, everyone breathed a collective sigh of relief when sexual predator Harvey Weinstein was finally expelled from all major film bodies, including the Motion Picture Academy and the Producers Guild of America.
Now, imagine you woke up to the news that he had been reinstalled. How would you react? With abject horror and disgust, one would presume. But why is that? Is it because we feel he has not atoned enough for his sins? Would we feel the same way about him being reinstated ten years later? Or would we just shrug and say okay, I guess it happened a long time ago? What if it’s water under the bridge for everyone else but them?
In February 2017, a popular Malayalam actress was abducted and sexually assaulted in her car by six people, who then took pictures of her to blackmail her and dumped her near director Lal’s house.
Following this, she filed a police complaint, and the subsequent investigation led to the revelation of a bigger conspiracy, at the helm of which was industry big-shot Dileep. Worse still, he allegedly hatched this conspiracy purely out of spite and revenge “to teach her a lesson”, because she’d told his then-wife Manju Warrier that he was cheating on her.
After months of denial from Dileep, and derogatory remarks towards the actress from all and sundry, Dileep was arrested in July 2017 after, mind you, the police found irrefutable evidence of his involvement.
At the time, most — not all — expressed their great support towards the actress, and many people, inside and outside the industry, immediately seemed to ostracise Dileep. The day after he was arrested, he was promptly expelled from the Association of Malayalam Movie Artistes (AMMA), which was presided over by the actor Mammootty at the time, and from the Kerala Film Producers Association and other bodies in which he was a hugely influential member.
Fast-forward a year, and Mohanlal becomes the new president of the AMMA. Their first general meeting concludes that Dileep be reinstated because ‘due procedures were not followed for his expulsion’. For anyone else, this would seem ridiculous. But in the Malayalam movie industry, it doesn’t come as much of a surprise. Rima Kallingal, actress and founder of the Women in Cinema Collective (WCC) had this to say about the AMMA welcoming Dileep. “We humbly ask people not to tell us to speak to AMMA anymore. We saw their sensitivity and their intelligence while dealing with issues that we have raised.”
Before his expulsion, Dileep was a key member of the AMMA as well as a founding member of the Film Exhibitors United Organisation of Kerala (FEUOK). In this article, titled Actor Dileep's Arrest Exposes The Dark Side Of Malayalam Movie Industry, journalist and columnist G Pramod Kumar talks about how power is concentrated with the three superstars in Kerala, and how they control everything. “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,” he writes.
This patriarchal oligopoly was confirmed by Malayalam actor Thilakan before he passed away, in this interview among others. He talks of a caste bias, and an active effort to isolate him from Malayalam cinema. Last year, actor and director Vinayan emerged victorious when the Competition Commission of India ruled that the AMMA and the Film Employees Federation of Kerala (FEFKA), their office-bearers, and two of FEFKA's affiliates were guilty of violating the Competition Act (2002). Vinayan accused these groups of engaging in anti-competitive practices, like banning actors, technicians and directors from working with certain people who had been unofficially blacklisted.
But despite this, the AMMA and FEFKA remain largely under the control of a small, select circle of superstar actors. So much so that after the abduction and sexual assault of the Malayalam actress, women members of the two associations were unconvinced that the patriarchal system would take strict action, or any action at all, which led to the formation of a separate body, the Women in Cinema Collective (WCC).
The WCC’s first order of business was to submit a petition to the Chief Minister of Kerala, demanding an inquiry into the assaulted actor’s case. And now, in the light of the news of Dileep’s reinstatement, they have issued a strong statement condemning the move and calling it “anti-women”.
The statement posits a series of questions everyone is asking right now, including “Don’t you feel there is an anomaly in taking back a rape accused to the association even before the investigation is over?” and “Isn’t this decision to reinstate Dileep into the association of which the survivor is still a part of, insulting her?”
When bodies like the AMMA and FEFKA that are ostensibly male-dominated have a case of sexual assault on their hands, they seem to be completely bamboozled. How else would one explain ousting Dileep when the evidence came to light, but reinstating him despite an ongoing investigation? What if he is proven guilty? Would they denounce him again?
In Lili Loofbourow’s poignant article in Slate on Sunday, titled Junot Díaz and the Problem of the Male Self-Pardon, she deconstructs a common phenomenon that has found its place in the public interactions between abusers and their survivors - the Self-Pardon. This involves abusers never directly apologising, or being forgiven by their survivors, but throwing about phrases that indicate they have somehow come to terms with their monstrous actions, and have changed.
“The regular speculation about if and when the men of #MeToo will make their comebacks arises from a culture steeped in the belief that men should be able to basically self-pardon—that is, effect their own confessions and absolutions without much involving the parties they’ve wronged,” she says.
While Dileep never apologised to the actress or even owned up to what he’s accused of doing (considering that the investigation is still ongoing), it does reflect quite problematically on our culture of appointing ourselves custodians of an abuser’s right to co-exist with their survivor. The minute they look repentant, or have been deemed to have suffered a sufficient amount, they are considered mature and ready to be welcomed back into the fold.
This is of course, irrespective of the survivor’s own journey of forgiveness, or lack thereof. Why should anyone except the survivor get a say in the poorly scripted redemption arc of some tortured misogynist?
If the survivor has to interact or work with her abuser on a regular basis, they often undergo feelings of embarrassment, trauma or shame— a wonderful byproduct of the victim-blaming culture we have created and found new ways to perpetuate. In any case, it becomes very difficult to face your abuser, especially if they have a different version of how events transpired, and no one should be forced to confront their abuser until they’re fully ready.
When swimmer and child sexual abuse survivor Danielle Bostick wrote about her decision to come out about how she was abused as a child in her moving confession in The Washington Post, she said, “It often feels safer for victims to deny or minimize the extent and impact of the abuse. Naming and disclosing the experience can dredge up intense emotional pain, shatter the identity a victim has worked hard to construct, threaten his or her sense of normalcy, and disrupt interpersonal relationships, particularly if the perpetrator is still in contact with the victim or his or her family.”
For survivors who do muster the courage to reveal their story and demand justice, a culture that protects perpetrators of abuse or glorifies their redemption is the worst environment imaginable.
What is the point of the #MeToo movement if all it seeks to do is wait an acceptable amount of time before sweeping things under the rug and greeting sexual predators like old friends, while the survivor is encouraged to move on and “forgive and forget” as it were?
The Ladies Finger (TLF) is a leading online women’s magazine
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