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Mohanlal, Mammootty's Support for Assault Survivor: Mere Optics or Big Change?

Mammootty and Mohanlal have showed their support for the survivor in female actor assault case in Kerala.

Updated
Indian Cinema
6 min read
Mohanlal, Mammootty's Support for Assault Survivor: Mere Optics or Big Change?
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Almost over 10 hours after the survivor in the Kerala actor sexual assault case put out a social media post about the harrowing attack and her struggle for justice, the superstars of Malayalam cinema - Mohanlal and Mammootty, finally shared her post on their Instagram stories. "Respect" was the message Mohanlal chose to type out while reposting the survivor's note. "With you" was Mammootty's words of support for her via his Insta story.

“Though I am not the one who has committed the crime, there have been many attempts to humiliate, silence and isolate me. But at such times I have had some who stepped forward to keep my voice alive. Now when I hear so many voices speak up for me I know that I am not alone in this fight for justice,” said a part of the survivor's note. This is the first time that the actor has spoken up via her social media about the assault and ensuing case.

Several Malayalam stars including Prithviraj, Tovino Thomas, Parvathy, Anna Ben, Nimisha Sajayan and Rima Kallingal were quick to share the survivor's social media post and lend her their support on Monday. Though other stars like Dulquer Salmaan and Nivin Pauly too shared the message quite late, all eyes were on the two superstars of Malayalam cinema - Mammootty and Mohanlal, will they, won't they? And though late, they did.

Twitter users reacted with some amount of cynicism to Mohanlal and Mammootty's symbolic act of supporting the survivor via their Instagram accounts.

Mohanlal, Mammootty's Support for Assault Survivor: Mere Optics or Big Change?
Mohanlal, Mammootty's Support for Assault Survivor: Mere Optics or Big Change?
Mohanlal, Mammootty's Support for Assault Survivor: Mere Optics or Big Change?
Mohanlal, Mammootty's Support for Assault Survivor: Mere Optics or Big Change?
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The AMMA Flip-Flop Over Dileep's Expulsion

The cynicism isn't without reason. Back in February 2017, when the sexual assault was reported in Kerala, Mohanlal had immediately jumped to the survivor's support with a Facebook post condemning it and demanding that "may justice be served without delay". He also requested that, "we stop being candle holding and candle lighting sympathisers..."

Mohanlal, Mammootty's Support for Assault Survivor: Mere Optics or Big Change?

In July 2017, Dileep was expelled from the powerful Malayalam film organisation, Association of Malayalam Movie Artistes (AMMA), after his arrest in the sexual assault case. By June 2018, after Dileep was granted bail in the case, Mohanlal's attitude saw a change. In the first meeting of AMMA presided over by Mohanlal, the new president of the association, the body revoked Dileep's expulsion and decided that Dileep can return to the organisation since due procedures were not followed for his expulsion.

Mohanlal was heavily criticised for AMMA's decision and for not using his clout to support the survivor and not the accused. The superstar defended the association's decision by saying that the there was no opposition to revoke Dileep's removal, and that the body had to stand with the unanimous opinion of its members.

The first decision to expel Dileep in 2017 was taken at an emergency AMMA meeting at Mammootty's home. "We are always with our sister. We have extended our support to her from the very beginning itself. We will stand by the victim,” was Mammootty's statement at that time. He perhaps chose not to speak when the decision was then revoked the next year.

Clearly, both Mammootty and Mohanlal could have used their influence to do what was politically correct here, which is why their gesture of supporting the survivor now on social media is being seen with some amount of cynicism.

Pressure from WCC and the #MeToo Movement

By October 2018, Dileep was finally removed from AMMA again. This was after the Women in Cinema Collective (WCC) was formed in November 2017 by a group of 18 women from the Malayalam film industry who came out in support of the survivor and openly criticised AMMA's 'boys club' culture. Several of these women included actors and filmmakers who had resigned from AMMA in protest against their tone deaf handling of the sexual assault case. This again was a time when the #MeToo movement in India was at its peak. The WCC continues to vocally stand with the survivor and her battle for justice.

<div class="paragraphs"><p>The WCC stands by the survivor.</p></div>

The WCC stands by the survivor.

(Photo Courtesy: Instagram)

It was in this backdrop that the president of AMMA, Mohanlal, called Dileep and told him about the association's decision to expel him and asked him for his resignation, following which Dileep submitted a resignation letter.

Today, the Malayalam film industry is much more under the public eye (beyond Kerala) than it ever was. Malayalam cinema is being widely recognised and its actors are getting a national platform thanks to OTT releases and they are increasingly interacting with film journalists outside the state. At such a time, the pressure to be seen as politically correct also mounts. Could the superstars of Malayalam cinema afford to stay silent and not support the survivor, even if symbolically?

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Pressure to Make the Hema Commission Report Public

In 2017, the Department of Cultural Affairs announced a committee headed by retired justice K Hema to study and submit a report on the issues faced by women in the Malayalam film industry. Several prominent female actors from the industry have appeared before the committee and spoken about the discrimination and harassment they have faced. There was hope that the report would bring about a change in both mindset and systems within the industry when it was made public.

However, the Justice Hema Committee report submitted to the Kerala government on 31 December, 2019, remains highly confidential. According to a report in The News Minute, Justice Hema cited Supreme Court rulings to ensure the privacy of sexual harassment victims to reason that the report should be kept confidential “since it contains details of sexual assault, harassment and abuse which were disclosed to the Committee by various women in privacy during in camera proceedings”.

Actors such as Parvathy have now begun demanding that the report be made public without revealing the names of the female actors who have appeared before the committee.

How can keeping the report confidential solve the problems raised by the women who have appeared before the committee is the question that is being raised not just by the actor but also by several MLAs.

Again, in the backdrop of these demands, can the superstars of Malayalam cinema be seen being totally callous towards the survivor of what's now a hugely public, much discussed sexual assault case?

The Fresh FIR Against Dileep

On Sunday, a fresh FIR was was filed against Dileep by Kerala police's Crime Branch. The new FIR is based on incriminating audio clips allegedly of Dileep, his brother and brother-in-law, among others, discussing a conspiracy to murder the investigating official and Deputy Superintendent Baiju Paulose. These audio clips were released by a filmmaker named Balachandrakumar, who said that he was a friend of Dileep. In the light of these audio clips, the state government has formed a new investigation team to investigate the ongoing sexual assault case.

The new FIR and grave allegations of conspiring to murder a police officer could also have turned the tide against Dileep for his supporters in the film industry. Could Malayalam cinema's biggest heroes be seen as favouring him or even being neutral in such a case? Definitely not.

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Mohanlal and Mammootty's very public support to the survivor, no matter how cynically viewed, is a shot in the arm for the case against Dileep. There is also hope that this show of solidarity with the survivor by the superstars will go beyond mere virtual tokenism and usher in bigger changes in the Malayalam film industry.

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