Malayalam actress molestation case: Freeing Kerala film industry from criminals will need a massive political will
Although the Pinarayi Vijayan government has shown intent to free the Kerala film industry from criminals, many feel it is easier said than done as many of the fringe elements associated with the industry have top political connections.
The outcry following the molestation of a prominent South Indian actress in Kochi has finally got the state government to act tough on Mollywood. The Left Democratic Front (LDF) government in Kerala has vowed to put an end to what it calls is a ‘rampant criminalisation’ of the film industry.
“What happened to the actor is not a one-off incident. Criminals seem to be entrenched in this industry at many levels. The government is committed to break this network and cleanse Malayalam cinema at any cost. We are not going to spare anyone, even some of the big stars are under the scanner," said Kerala, Minister for Cultural Affairs, AK Balan.
Balan also told Firstpost that the industry is currently in the grip of a lobby that involves certain actors, directors and producers who are hand-in-glove with criminals and history-sheeters. Many in the industry are suffering because they need to bow to the wishes of these people and those who do not, meet the fate of the actor who was molested. This, he said has to be tackled with an iron hand.
The minister said that the government would soon start a major crackdown on these criminals with the help of people within the industry. There are plans to involve various associations working within the industry to help clean up the mess. The open comments of the minister, which indeed is a reflection of what the Pinarayi Vijayan government is gearing up to do, comes at a time when there is a strong allegation that the attack on the Malayalam actor in Kochi was a well-planned attempt by a lobby led by one ‘prominent actor’ who had been hunting her down for quite some time now. Various reports indicate that Malayalam actor Dileep’s name had been thrown around in this regard as the ‘prominent actor’ although Firstpost could not verify it independently.
For the last two years, the assaulted heroine had even been forced to seek work in movies in neighbouring Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh due to this harassment.
While all these are matters of investigation now, a few actors have also called for introspection at the earliest. “There is no denying the fact that the Malayalam film industry is in the clutches of goonda gangs patronised by a few leading actors. There is no use pushing it under the carpet. We need to weed them out at the earliest," said KB Ganesh Kumar, leading actor, and a MLA.
Highly placed sources in the state government told Firstpost that the scope of the present investigation would not stop with the molestation of this actor alone. Rather, a wider probe, which includes a thorough investigation aimed at netting the criminal elements in the industry is being planned.
Minister Balan confirmed this. “This is not going to end with bringing just this particular quotation gang to book. We are going to look into every aspect of the industry. Now some of the prominent actors are coming out with revelations which show the extent to which the criminal mafia has taken over the industry. We will now examine every aspect of this," he said.
Fans, drugs, goons and Mollywood
According to Kerala Police, the attack was a well-planned affair which was aimed at blackmailing the actress after getting her pictures in compromising positions. The prime accused Sunil Kumar alias ‘Pulsar Suni’ who was arrested on Thursday has had a long run-in with the law. In spite of being a well-known history-sheeter, Kumar has enjoyed close relationships with a number of leading actors doubling up as their drivers and agents, exposing the dark underbelly of the tinsel town’s unholy alliance with hardcore criminals.
After the news broke, Mukesh, a top film star and a sitting MLA revealed how he had sacked Kumar when he learned about his criminal antecedents. What has startled many is how Kumar managed to stick to the industry and even gain proximity to the top group in spite of his open criminal background.
It is here that industry finds no place to hide. Senior film directors claim that post-2000, the ‘fan rivalry’ in the industry had been intense and it is through this route that criminals and history-sheeters started entering the film world in Kerala.
Vinayan, a director who had been sidelined many times for speaking his mind says that the top Malayalam film stars are themselves to blame for the current situation. “There was a time when hired goons of one superstar used to disrupt releases of the other by causing a din at the theatre. They used to pelt stones and resort to violence in the name of fan rivalry. Over time these people became trusted lieutenants and henchmen in the form of drivers, managers, agents and even producers. It is this culture that is destroying this industry,’’ said Vinayan.
Many directors and producers, in anonymity, say that the monopoly and sheer control that these “superstars” wield over the industry with the help of another ‘prominent actor’ form the crux of the whole issue. While the two demi-gods of the industry maintain their image and position at the top, the other ‘prominent actor’, whose recent marriage had also ruffled feathers, does all the dirty work to maintain the status quo.
Many call him the ‘master manipulator’ who has besides cinema, interests in real estate and hospitality. He even runs a restaurant in Kochi that is doing big business. A recent quarrel between producers and exhibitors was also quelled under his leadership by floating a new association of which he was crowned the head.
But the muck does not end there. In 2015, raids by narcotics division of the Kerala Police opened a Pandora’s box in Kochi. The arrest of a new generation actor Shine Tom Chacko and a DJ turned actor Mithun Vilas in Kochi exposed the control the drug mafia based in Goa has had on the Malayalam film industry.
A director told Firstpost that more than money, the new generation group of actors demand ‘substance’ if they need to be pulled out from one shoot location to another. But even this 2015 expose was soon hushed up.
“Over the last few years, glorification of drugs and violence against women have been rampant themes in Malayalam movies. Top stars were endorsing it in movies. So what is the surprise when criminalisation creeps into the industry itself?" asked Biju, a national award winning director.
What happened to the Malayalam actor who was molested, is just the tip of the iceberg. Perhaps the difference is that she had the courage to come out in the open. A few others have now taken courage to do the same. Well-known producer Suresh Kumar recounts how his wife Menaka, an erstwhile heroine of the industry escaped from a similar circumstance a few years ago.
"She was supposed to be dropped to a hotel by this driver. But then he started taking a different route. When she started calling me in panic, the driver also perhaps got scared and he dropped her at another hotel where she had no booking and fled the scene. We even reported to the cops but nothing happened. Later we came to know the man behind this was again Pulsar Suni," said Suresh Kumar.
Suresh goes on to add that the reason why Menaka escaped is perhaps because the gang was not expecting her but a couple of very young stars to get into the vehicle that day. His words only reinforce that what happened to the actor last week was certainly not a stray incident.
The political connection
The government may have given the call to arms for a cleansing of the industry. But many feel it is easier said than done. That many of the fringe elements associated with the industry have top political connections in the state is no secret.
In the latest molestation episode itself, one of the prime accused VP Vigneesh who hails from Kannur is reported to have very close links with the ruling Communist Party of India – Marxist (CPM). His brother is a prime accused in the high-profile murder of Kathiroor Manoj, a BJP worker in September 2014 at Kannur.
With the roots of the cinema-political-criminal nexus running deep, the Vijayan government will have a tough time implementing its plans. Take the case of the CPM state secretary’s son who is also a well known face in the industry. Many allege that he is the main provider of hired goons in the industry. That the same goons work for the party too is a well-known fact.
How the LDF will tackle all this while going in to clean the industry would be the crucial question from here on.
“See the elements who rule the industry are too close to the top politicians in the state. How do you think the government will break this monopoly? Mere political will alone cannot get you far in this issue. It’s easier said than done for the government," says CR Neelakandan, a civil rights activist in the state.
The attack on the Malayalam actor is the latest crisis that has hit the industry which is still to recover from the mysterious death of actor Kalabhavan Mani. Though Mani’s family had all the while talked of foul play following the discovery that the actor had consumed illicit liquor, the investigation has gone nowhere in spite of the CBI taking over the case in June 2016.
Sunil Kumar and his seven-member gang might end up behind bars for a few years. But the bigger fish in Mollywood who are behind this episode are likely to get away yet again.
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