The latest cover of the women's magazine Vanitha features Dileep, his wife and Malayalam actor Kavya Madhavan, their baby, and his daughter from his first wife. Inside is a lengthy interview, a megaphone to amplify Dileep’s voice as he pleads not guilty in the ongoing sexual assault case in which he is an accused.
Dileep's interview begins with the actor's past troubles and financial difficulties, a blatant attempt to evoke sympathy among the readers.
Glorifying Accused as Hero
It goes on to glorify and make a hero of the accused by ordaining him as the captain who stands by and protects his fellows even during the toughest times. Published under the title ‘My war is to win the truth’, this interview is nothing but a PR exercise from start to finish.
Before I go on to the contents of Dileep's interview, it needs to be mentioned that all of us have been witnessing the unholy alliance between political leaders, the capitalist class, and the media in India for many years now—on both regional and national levels. We see resistance towards this nexus too, albeit feeble in nature. And even as we rue this crass commercialisation of Indian media, the regional Malayalam media makes strong claims of being pro-people and pro-democracy.
The written word is deeply embedded in Kerala's culture; the state produces the most popular daily newspaper in India and the regional language daily with the most number of editions around the world. And despite their claims of neutrality, all these publications have a clear political leaning. But the one thing that ties them together is their ability to be sensitive and humane on issues of social importance. And that is also why the latest issue of Vanitha, the most popular women's publication in India (that comes from the Manorama family), is shocking and disturbing.
On February 17, 2017, Kerala woke up to the news of sexual assault against a noted Malayalam female actor. Never had there been in the history of Malayalam cinema an incident so brutal. Dileep, hailed as a new age Malayalam superstar, was one of the prime accused in the case. He had allegedly paid men to abduct and assault the female actor, and even ordered them to take videos of the assault. The trial of the case, which is ongoing, took many twists and turns and witnessed several dramatic developments including resignations of public prosecutors.
After being released on bail, Dileep was back on screens in no time. Robust cyber groups and groups of film activists came out in his support.
The Sheer Arrogance of Men in Power
The arrogance of men in power and their lack of empathy for the victim led to a split in the Association of Malayalam Movie Artists (AMMA), a powerful organisation of Malayalam film actors. Some of the most notable female actors of the generation formed the Women in Cinema Collective (WCC). The incident sparked a conversation around misogyny and sexism that are deeply ingrained in Malayalam cinema; a new crop of filmmakers began to actively tackle these issues through their movies. It is at this critical juncture, where the movie world and the general public are at odds regarding the incident, that the highly influential women’s magazine Vanitha, has come out with an edition solely dedicated to whitewashing Dileep.
The interviewer first asks Dileep about the details of his latest film. To the credit of the interview, not much is said about this highly one-dimensional movie that does not move away from the distasteful buffoonery that we saw in Malayalam cinema of the early 1990s. The rest of the interview is fraught with questions and answers that emotionally manipulate the readers.
Most of the answers are statements like “I have a wife, two daughters, and siblings”, “my mother is not well”, “I pray not to go crazy until the truth is proven”, highly reminiscent of the dialogues mouthed by the heroic characters played by Dileep in his films. He even goes to the extent of saying, “I do not know why a lot of people harbour animosity towards me.” Dileep's tone oscillates between that of a victim and a self-righteous person.
Vanitha: Forefront Of Setting Trends
According to media reports, the motive for the assault was the support that the female actor had given Manju Warrier, Dileep's first wife. The survivor had stood by Warrier through her separation and divorce from Dileep, following which she was reportedly unofficially boycotted from his films. Sources close to the Kerala Police claim that Dileep had contracted Pulsar Suni, the prime accused in the sexual assault who is now in jail, to commit the crime motivated by sheer personal vengeance.
Among the crucial evidence that led to Dileep's arrest in July 2017 were Suni's confession and call records.
Vanitha (which translates to ‘Woman’), first published in 1975, has a special place in every Malayali household and the hearts of women in Kerala. It is a publication that has always been at the forefront of setting trends and forming opinions. And to see such a magazine grant space to one of the prime accused in an ongoing sexual assault case, to slyly argue and establish his innocence, is highly unbecoming.
There is no reason to believe it is a slip up. After all, the esteemed publication comes from the house of Malayala Manorama. And since Malayala Manorama is considered a trendsetter of journalism in Kerala, it would be safe to assume that a dangerous course has been set.
That a magazine with the tagline ‘Women's Friend and Guide’, offered unilateral space to someone accused of brutal sexual assault is the pinnacle of misogyny. Like many other self-respecting women, I have decided to boycott the magazine. A magazine that sings the praises of male supremacism should at least be prepared to revoke its title. The name 'Purushu' (Man), one of the characters from Dileep’s movie, would suit it better.
(Sumayya PK is a writer, activist, and regular contributor to regional Malayalam publications. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)