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Stardom to Jail Inmate: The Rise & Fall of Malayalam Actor Dileep

How did a lower middle-class boy become the virtual ruler of the Malayalam film industry?

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It looks like the curtains are finally coming down on the career of Dileep, one of the most successful Malayalam superstars and a leading producer, distributor and exhibitor. The popular actor, whose fans refers to him as ‘Janapriya Nayakan’ (People’s Actor), was recently arrested in connection with the abduction and molestation of an actress in Kochi last February. Dileep (48) was remanded to a 14-day judicial custody and was shifted to Aluva (near Kochi) sub-jail.

Dileep in many ways controlled the Malayalam film industry as he was a ‘one-man industry’ who had stake as a leading actor, producer of many hits, a solid distribution company, and last year started D- Cinemas, a popular multiplex in Chalakudy near Thrissur. He was also the Treasurer of the most powerful film organisation in Kerala - AMMA (Association of Malayalam Movie Artists), which he set up along with other big stars of the industry.

Following Dileep’s arrest, he was expelled from AMMA’s primary membership on Tuesday after an emergency executive committee meeting of the organisation held at the residence of Mammootty in Kochi. He was also expelled from Kerala Film Producers Association and Theatre Federation.

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Dileep, along with Mammootty and Mohanlal, was the ruling Trimurti who ran the industry. Both M and M owe a lot to Dileep, who helped them control their stardom and hold over the industry, especially in the last 10 years. Dileep could make or break other supporting actors’ careers and reportedly had a final word in everything in the cine field including casting.
How did a lower middle-class boy become the virtual ruler of the Malayalam film industry?
Dileep (right) with Mohanlal at an event. 
(Photo courtesy: Facebook/ akdfaonline)

He recently broke the back of the exhibitors’ federation and the hold of Liberty Basheer, and got him defeated and anointed himself as the new president of the Theatre Federation.

A Rising Star

How did Gopalakrishna Pillai born into a lower middle-class Nair family in Aluva become the omnipotent superstar Dileep ? A flashback - our hero turned villain spent his college days at Ernakulam’s prestigious Maharaja’s college and became a mimicry artist at the famous Kalabhavan.

Mimicry of popular actors and politicians was a form of entertainment especially in the 80s and 90s during college functions and festivals in temples and churches in Kerala. And with the advent of satellite channels, Gopalakrishnan was the star performer in Comicola, a comedy show on Asianet, the first Malayalam satellite channel.

Nadir Shah, his best friend from those days, was also questioned in the actress abduction case. Then it was but natural for a mimicry artist to graduate to the big screen after the success of actors like Jayaram, Siddique , Sainuddin and others. And Gopalakrishnan became an assistant to leading director Kamal, and later debuted as a hero with Mannathe Kottaram (1994), directed by Sunil who gave him the screen name Dileep.

But it was his association with writer Lohitadas and Sallapam (1996), where Manju Warrier played the heroine, that got him star recognition. The Dileep-Manju romantic pair became popular among the audiences with films like Ee Puzhayam Kadannu (1997) and he married her in 1998, when she was at her peak and the number one heroine. The buzz is that Dileep insisted that Manju should not act in films, and soon she faded out and became a housewife. And in early 2000, Dileep-Kavya Madhavan became a hot pair in Malayalam cinema.

How did a lower middle-class boy become the virtual ruler of the Malayalam film industry?
Dileep with his first wife Manju Warrier in Sallapam.
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Janapriya Nayakan

In late 1990s and early 2000, Dileep became a mass hero doing slapstick comedy entertainers with films like Punjabi House, Thenkasipattanam, Ee Parakkum Thalika, Meesa Madhavan and many others. Most of the writers and directors of these films were from the mimicry background and he personally picked them on their ability to provide slapstick comedy.

How did a lower middle-class boy become the virtual ruler of the Malayalam film industry?
Dileep in a still from Punjabi House.
Please note director Priyadarshan and actor Mohanlal had made comedy genre films the strongest formula to succeed at the box-office in 80s and 90s. After Mohanlal became a superstar and Priyadarshan migrated to Bollywood, Dileep saw a market in reinventing the slapstick comedy genre, which worked to his advantage.

Though he tried his best to change his image by doing films with serious filmmakers including the master Adoor Gopalakrishnan in Pinneyum (2016), it never worked. It was crass commercial laugh-a-minute comedies that Dileep is known for and he never got the kind of recognition reserved for Mohanlal and Mammootty. The advent of new generation heroes like Prithviraj, Nivin Pauly and Dulquer Salmaan, saw Dileep concentrating more on the business of cinema and his hold over the industry through AMMA.

Personal Vendetta?

Meanwhile his private life went through a churning as he divorced Manju Warrier in 2014. The reason for the divorce according to the grapevine was his growing closeness to Kavya Madhavan, with whom he had given many super hits. The actress in the abduction and molestation case was supposed to have played a crucial role by supporting Manju during her divorce proceedings. Two years after his divorce, Dileep married Kavya, for whom also it was her second marriage.

How did a lower middle-class boy become the virtual ruler of the Malayalam film industry?
Dileep with his second wife Kavya Madhavan.

The police investigating the actress abduction and molestation case say the main reason for Dileep hatching a plan along with paid mercenaries or ‘Quotation gang’ (as they say in Kerala) like Pulsar Suni, was to teach the actress a lesson.

He (Dileep) had a deep-rooted hatred for the actress because she squealed on his affair with Kavya to Manju, and in fact confronted her over it at a Kochi five-star hotel. The spat turned ugly and other actors had to intervene, but Dileep saw to it that the actress was “person non-grata” in the Malayalam film industry as nobody dared to cast her again as the heroine.
A police officer
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Present Woes

Now back to present. Dileep has currently three films in various stages of production costing around Rs 60 crore riding on him. Rama Leela directed by debutant Arun Gopy has him playing a crafty politician with shades of grey and was supposed to release on July 7, but has now been postponed indefinitely. Kammara Sambhavam, directed by debutant Rathish Ambat is a war-based big budget film which also has popular actor Siddharth making his Malayalam debut. Another Dileep film which started rolling is Professor Dingan, a full 3D comic-adventure film directed by veteran cameraman Ramachandra Babu.

How did a lower middle-class boy become the virtual ruler of the Malayalam film industry?
A poster of Kammara Sambhavam.

It looks like Dileep will take some time to come out of his present mess.

He has lost the goodwill and public support he once enjoyed due to the non-stop television coverage on his arrest. In fact Dileep has asked the police to provide protection to his multiplex, restaurant (Dhe Puttu) and his home in Aluva. And with AMMA distancing from him, it will be a long haul and legal battle ahead for the actor. His political connections are also not working as the Pinarayi Vijayan government and its police have got accolades for solving the actress abduction and molestation case.

And as the memes (using his film titles) on FB say – “It’s Welcome To Central Jail for King Liar”.

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