Malayalam actress assault case: Shielding Dileep only reiterates Mollywood’s gender insensitivity

Naveen Nair

Jun,30 2017 18:01:09 IST

The Aluva Police Club located a few kilometers out of the bustling Kochi city has been infamous for the number of high profile police interrogations the venue has witnessed.

On Wednesday when some of the top cops of Kerala police sat across the table for 13 long hours questioning one of Mollywood’s most powerful and influential actors of recent times, for his alleged involvement in a conspiracy leading to the rape of an actress , the cops were creating a slice of history themselves.

Not just for the amount of time that Dileep, the actor who was put through the grind, but that it was for the first time that a Mollywood’s top gun was having a serious run-in with the law.

That Dileep did walk out free from the Police Club at 1 am on Thursday’s wee hours is no indication that the actor is off the hook as the police are yet to give him a clean chit.

dileep - Copy

Malayalam actor Dileep.

But what is causing an unprecedented outcry from literally all quarters of the state is the urgency and brashness shown by the some of the leading actors in declaring Dileep innocent and in order to substantiate his innocence, cast aspersions on the character and credibility of the victim herself.

National Award winning actor Salim Kumar set the ball rolling with an outrageous suggestion calling for a lie detector test on both the victim and the rapist. Kumar’s vitriolic words soon found a partner in Dileep himself who said, “People should think twice before selecting friends,” hinting that the rapist and the victim had been friends.

Though both of them apologised later following criticism, their words had set off a chain reaction with a small time producer foul mouthing at a TV show saying, “the actress was only harassed for 2 hours but for that Dileep has been suffering for four months.’’

Saji Nanthiyattu, the producer and defender of Dileep, who said this reflects the mindset of the Malayalam film industry and stand testimony to why a group of leading women actresses, had formed a new organisation the Women’s Collective in Cinema (WCC) recently, to protect the interest of women in Malayalam film industry.

Saying enough is enough, WCC has now approached the State Women’s Commission to initiate action against those insulting the victim.

“We are going ahead with suing such people who are hell-bent on insulting the victim. This cannot go on. Whatever we had been crying out for is now all coming true. This is just a patriarchal industry with total male hegemony where even a woman who has been brutalised also would not find support,’’ Vidhu Vincent, a leading director who is at the forefront of WCC told Firstpost.

The present impasse arises from the absolute apathy shown by the Association of Malayalam Movie Artists (AMMA), the most powerful union that controls the industry, towards the actress who faced the harassment. While the Union failed to even move a finger to condemn or issue a statement in support of the actress, it had openly taken a stand to protect Dileep, who still stands under the cloud of suspicion.

The real face of the organisation was evident at a press briefing called by it, where an attempt was made to gag the media persons from asking uncomfortable questions.

As both the superstars of the industry, Mammotty and Mohan Lal remained mute spectators, the second-rung stars argued with the media for questioning the silence of the union over the attack on the actress and the remarks made against her by some of its members.

Though the WCC had given a written appeal to the AMMA to discuss the attack on the actress, nothing had happened.

“The victim is a part of the same organisation. Now whether Dileep is the culprit or not is something which the police have to say. But how can this organisation stand by Dileep and disown the victim? Ideally they should have stood with her and tried to find out how this happened to her. If the union cannot ponder on the larger issue of safety of women who work in films then why need such a union?’’ asks film critic VK Joseph.

Joseph goes on to add that the primary responsibility of the organisation should have been to put in strict measures to ensure that such attacks on women do not happen in future.

But many say that the reaction of the union was on expected lines as the organisation is so entrenched in star worship and sycophancy that there is hardly any room for other discussions.

“This is not an organisation for actors. It is a place for the so called ‘stars’ in the film world to pursue their vested interests. So you just cannot expect any sort of democratic activity inside such a union which is controlled and run by a few male actors who, will only entertain such things that do not affect their super-stardom,” added Advocate A Jayashankar, who is a well known social activist in the state.

AMMA does have a history of quelling any dissent in the most cruel way. Late actor Thilakan is the one classic example of how an ego clash has resulted in the organisation declaring a sanction on the actor from not doing any more films with resources connected to it.

That three times National Award and nine times State Award winner Thilakan had to go back to doing small roles in theatre during his final days to make ends meet stand testimony to the merciless attitude that AMMA has taken to actors who don’t toe its line.

History Of Violence Against Women

The Malayalam Film Industry has a long standing history of violence against women. From Vijayasree, to Urvashi Shobha to Silk Smitha to Mayoori, the list of actress that had committed suicide is rather long and none of the cases have been solved in right earnest either.

Strange it might seem in a society that boasts of total literacy, Kerala’s women artists are the one of the most harassed groups in any film industry.

Poorly paid, which is an apology compared to what their male counterparts earn, these women face tremendous discrimination and harassment at work places, a mirror image of the highly patriarchal society that Kerala is.

A few months ago when the WCC was formed one of the primary aims of the women behind it was to ensure that the work place is properly defined which would set down guidelines for their security.

Sajitha Madathil, state award winning actress and currently Deputy Director at Sangeet Natak Akademi in Delhi says that WCC was born from the strong feeling that the industry by itself will never change.

“For the last five to six decades this industry had always taken the pseudo moral high ground by brushing under the carpet every wrong that happens against women. The present issue is also perhaps being dealt in this way. But now we are determined to fight this out how much ever time it takes,” added Madathil.

The male actors allege that on Thursday when the Annual General Body of the AMMA met, though three members of the WCC were attendees, they did not raise the issue of the actress harassment themselves.

To this the WCC has one thing to say. “We purposely did not do it because we wanted to see whether AMMA will have the resolve to take this issue up by themselves. Already we had given a letter on this. Does AMMA by itself have no responsibility to take up the matter for discussion especially when the woman is its own member?” asks Vincent.

But there are a few who say that it is a blunder on the part of the women to expect their men counterparts at Mollywood to have a ‘self awakening’ mentality which they have never had for years especially when it comes to dealing with women’s issues.

Bijukumar Damodaran or better known as Dr. Biju, is a three times national award winning director and he says that Mollywood is undoubtedly the most ‘anti-woman film industry’ in the world and that the present events are only a reflection of that mindset.

“There is no industry in the world which depicts woman in such a derogatory manner as the Malayalam industry does. From comedies to almost every element on screen thrives on anti-woman sentiments. What else would you expect from people who play such roles?” asks Biju.

No Clean Chit For Dileep

Meanwhile the police has made it very clear that it has not given Dileep a clean chit in the case and could be called back for questioning as and when required. The LDF government has also reiterated that it would go to any extent to ensure that the deep rooted criminalisation is cleansed from the industry’s face.

That the prime accused Sunil Kumar alias Pulsar Suni had been a driver to actor turned CPM MLA Mukesh before he gained proximity to others at shooting locations is still a worrying factor. Questions still arise on how a history-sheeter had found his way to be an actor’s driver and then gain closeness to others in the industry.

“Criminalisation is a part and parcel of Kerala film industry. We are not pointing fingers at one person. But the actors who are like the darling of the masses should be responsible to the society. They should have a system in the industry itself to ensure that criminals don’t become a part of it,” G Sudhakaran, a cabinet minister at the Pinarayi Vijayan government told Firstpost.

Sudhakaran has also confirmed that the government apart from going all out to book the culprits behind the harassment of the actress is also gearing up for a major crackdown on the criminal elements in the cinema and would check all the sources of income generated by the top actors in Mollywood.

Though it may sound a promise too tall considering how deep the industry is involved with the political set up of the state, the actress’s harassment case has certainly become a prestige issue for the Pinarayi Vijayan government especially post the blatant anti-women attitude of the industry.

The 13-hour long questioning of Dileep is perhaps the reflection of that political resolve of the government which the women folk in the industry hope will bring the much needed winds of change.

Updated Date: Jun 30, 2017 18:01 PM