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Decoding the Real Dileep: From Film Icon to Accused in Actress’ Sexual Assault

Dileep is not just a star in Malayalam film industry. He is a dealmaker, whose image some actresses questioned.

Updated
Gender
14 min read
<div class="paragraphs"><p>Malayalam film star Dileep is accused of having conspired to orchestrate the rape of an actress.</p></div>
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Mala Parvathy, a senior actress of Malayalam film industry and a member of the Association of Malayalam Movie Artists (AMMA), swore that she first took notice of Dileep only when he married actress Manju Warrier, in 1998. “I always thought of him as Manju Warrier’s husband. I did have respect for him, as he was someone whom Manju Warrier had selected,” Parvathy said, while speaking to The Quint with palpable unease.

When actor Dileep got embroiled in the Kerala woman actor assault case of 2017, Parvathy remained in support, she said, of his current wife, Kavya Madhavan, whom Dileep had married after he got a divorce from Warrier in 2015. “I know Kavya since ages. She has suffered a lot, personally. I could not have taken a stand which would hurt her,” Parvathy further explained, even as she maintained that she never supported Dileep directly.

Parvathy’s position is in stark contrast with that of actresses Rima Kallingal and Parvathy Thiruvothu, who had demanded Dileep’s removal from AMMA in 2017.

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Gopalkrishnan Pillai, whose screen name is Dileep, is a popular Malayalam film actor who holds the title Janapriya Nayakan (People’s Hero) in the southern state’s film industry.

In 2017, he was accused of masterminding the abduction and sexual assault of a young woman actress. Dileep is accused of conspiring to commit the assault – which was also filmed – to allegedly settle scores with the young star, who was close to his former wife, Manju Warrier.

<div class="paragraphs"><p>Manju Warrier (from left), Mala Parvathy and Kavya Madhavan. Parvathy says she has liked both women, and has been close to Madhavan.</p></div>

Manju Warrier (from left), Mala Parvathy and Kavya Madhavan. Parvathy says she has liked both women, and has been close to Madhavan.

(Image: Kamran Akhter/The Quint)

Mala Parvathy's overt closeness with Dileep's family has had favourable implications. Similarly, others including superstars Mohanlal and Mammootty have been sticking to cryptic messaging regarding Dileep, even as the latter thrived on this ambiguity.

As The Quint spoke to several film personalities, who had at various points held close links with him, this correspondent could decode the real Dileep behind the silver screen.

While tracing his growth from a mimicry artist to a star and producer, what has emerged is the picture of a person who knows well that his family, friendships, and clout work to his advantage, especially when accused of a heinous crime. This is the tale of Dileep's influence over the film industry.

From Mimicry Artist to First Break

When film director Vinayan, who has been in the industry for four decades, spoke of Dileep, he used the Malayalam word Aanappaka to describe him. Aanappaka literally means elephant’s grudge and is colloquially used to refer to people who hold grudges for a lifetime.

“He holds on to even the smallest of insults, even those jokingly said, and targets you when the opportunity arises,” Vinayan told The Quint.

Dileep is accused of having vengefully targeted the survivor for siding with Manju Warrier, during their messy divorce. While the sexual assault case is on trial in a Kerala court, it is pertinent to ask whether Dileep is powerful enough to act on vendetta. The answer is inextricably linked to the meteoric rise the actor had crafted for himself in the Malayalam film industry. An image which Women in Cinema Collective, led by women stars, managed to dent.

In the 1980s when Kalabhavan, a famed arts club in Kochi, was synonymous with stage shows across Kerala, Dileep was a mimicry artist.
<div class="paragraphs"><p>Jayaram (left) is believed to have helped Dileep in his film career.</p></div>

Jayaram (left) is believed to have helped Dileep in his film career.

(Image: Filmibeat/Facebook)

In Kalabhavan’s bright-lit, crowd pulling stages, he remained in the shadow of mimicry maestro Abi, young actor Shane Nigam’s father. It is Kalabhavan that propelled him into films. Dileep’s introduction to Malayalam cinema came through director Kamal for whom he worked as an assistant director, even as he did small, unremarkable roles.

Actor Jayaram, whom Dileep used to mimic in style, is believed to have helped him take up bigger roles. Dileep’s first break of sorts was Sallapam (1996) where he acted along with Manju Warrier and Manoj K Jayan.

Director Vinayan offered Dileep his first solo hero role in Kalyana Sougandhikam in 1996. “During those days, Dileep used to be a frequent visitor at my home. He used to be worried about his physique, especially his height,” Vinayan said.

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Marriage with Manju Warrier & a Tendency to Dictate Terms

From being a lean man of average height, Dileep knew that he had a long way to travel towards stardom. “His marriage with Manju helped him immensely,” Vinayan observed.

Manju Warrier was the most sought-after female lead in Malayalam films in the 1990s. Even as Dileep was struggling, Warrier had already acted with superstars Mohanlal and Suresh Gopi.
<div class="paragraphs"><p>Manju Warrier (right) was a sought after star in the Malayalam film industry.</p></div>

Manju Warrier (right) was a sought after star in the Malayalam film industry.

(Image: Kamran Akhter/The Quint)

As school stationary in parts of Kerala commonly displayed the marriage photographs of Manju Warrier and Dileep, at least a section of Kerala’s public asked why she had to stop acting at the peak of her acting career. But that was the norm, several actresses including towering leads Urvashi and Parvathy had stopped acting after marriage.

“I met the couple during a Filmfare, South award ceremony in early 2000s. I remember Dileep introducing Manju as his wife even as it was clear that I was more in awe of her than him,” a senior film journalist said.

During those days Dileep was known as the family man, as several interviews showcased him, Warrier and their infant daughter Meenakshi.

In 2017, his former mentor Abi revealed to some Malayalam television channels that it was “common knowledge among Dileep’s friends that he was already married” when he tied the knot with Warrier. Kerala police too looked into this first marriage. However, Dileep’s hold in the film industry had extended beyond Manju Warrier by mid-2000s.

<div class="paragraphs"><p>Director Vinayan (left) who used to be close to Dileep in the early stages of his career.</p></div>

Director Vinayan (left) who used to be close to Dileep in the early stages of his career.

(Image: Kamran Akhter/The Quint)

Behind the scenes, the actor was already calling the shots. “I wanted to give a film to senior scriptwriter Kaloor Dennis. Dileep came with Manju to meet me and said the film will be a flop if Dennis scripts it,” Vinayan said.

The director attributed the actor’s distaste to his “superstitions”; Dileep was of the belief that Dennis would repeat a flop in consecutive films. In 2002, Vinayan gave the role in Oomappenninu Uriyadappayyan to another newcomer, Jayasurya. “I told Dileep clearly that an actor cannot dictate terms to the director.”

This was in 2002, when Dileep's Kunjikoonan was already a hit. Dileep stopped collaborating with Vinayan. But his films – Thilakkam, CID Moosa, Mizhirandilum and Perumazhakkalam– were hits.

Manju Warrier receded into the background. Dileep’s clout expanded.

The Gathering Influence

When this correspondent reached out to director and actor Nadirsha, who has been a close friend of Dileep since his Kalabhavan days, he wrote a message in reply, “I have nothing to say, at this moment, about either the case which is in court or Dileep.” This was a day after the actress, who was assaulted, released a statement on Instagram on 10 January. “I know that I am not alone in this fight for justice,” she wrote.

Director Arun Gopy interpreted Nadirsha’s silence and the recent reserved responses of Dileep’s close friends, “If they say anything good about Dileep-ettan (brother), they will undergo a media trial… When the man, who is only an accused and not a convict in the case, appeared on the cover of a magazine along with his family, how did it create such a furor?”
<div class="paragraphs"><p>'With Dileep' reads director Lal Jose's Facebook photo.</p></div>

'With Dileep' reads director Lal Jose's Facebook photo.

(Photo: Facebook)

A popular Malayalam women’s magazine had in January 2022 featured Dileep, Kavya Madhavan and his two children on its cover, drawing flak from several circles. The biggest criticism against the cover story was its unabashed attempt to present Dileep as a victim – a point of view often pushed by those who have openly supported the actor.

Gopy, whose debut film Ramaleela had starred Dileep, vouched for the actor, “Dileep-ettan could not have done it.” Dileep was filming Ramaleela when he was first accused of the crime.

<div class="paragraphs"><p>Director Arun Gopy, who directed the film <em>Ramaleela</em>, the first to release after the actor assault case.</p></div>

Director Arun Gopy, who directed the film Ramaleela, the first to release after the actor assault case.

(Image: Kamran Akhter/The Quint)

In the last week of December 2021, director Balachandra Kumar, who was once a friend of Dileep, gave television interviews revealing that the actor was in possession of the assault video. Kumar also revealed he has evidence of the actor’s association with the prime accused Sunil Kumar alias ‘Pulsur’ Suni.

Dileep is accused number eight in the case and is also charged with criminal conspiracy. Further, in a second criminal case which was booked on 9 January, Dileep is the prime accused. This case is based on audio clips, purportedly of Dileep’s brother-in-law TN Suraj, in which a conspiracy to murder investigating officer and Deputy Superintendent of Police, Baiju Paulose, was discussed.

While several stars and directors had publicly supported Dileep in the past – director Lal Jose still has a photograph of himself with Dileep as his Facebook cover image and Mohanlal and Mammootty had earlier posed with Dileep in what was a get-together at actor Siddique’s house – the Dileep camp has been largely silent, ever since fresh allegations surfaced in the case. Fear of public backlash?

<div class="paragraphs"><p>Director and actor Nadirsha (right) did not want to comment about Dileep.</p></div>

Director and actor Nadirsha (right) did not want to comment about Dileep.

(Image: Kamran Akhter/The Quint)

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Managing Optics and Brokering Deals

But, what sort of clout does Dileep have in the industry? Vinayan said, “Dileep is someone who could get people to target anyone overnight.”

Pulsor Suni, in 2017, confessed to Kerala police that Dileep had given him a “quotation” or contract to rape the survivor and film the act. According to his statement, the actor had offered him Rs 2 crore to get it done. Dileep’s clout, however, allegedly extends beyond bribery and contracts.

Referring to a debacle he had faced in 2008, Vinayan said, “Overnight, Dileep could get several bigwigs including actors and directors at a hotel in Kerala and declare unanimously that I am ‘autocratic’.”
<div class="paragraphs"><p>Scriptwriter Kaloor Dennis, whom Dileep wanted to sideline during his early days as an actor.</p></div>

Scriptwriter Kaloor Dennis, whom Dileep wanted to sideline during his early days as an actor.

(Photo: Facebook)

At that time, when Vinayan was the general secretary of Malayalam Cine Technicians Association (MACTA) he had taken up a case against Dileep. The actor, after committing to a film by director Thulasidas, had backed out, even as he had allegedly taken Rs 40 lakh as a promissory amount.

Vinayan, as general secretary of MACTA, asked Dileep to resolve the matter within three months and warned him of a boycott. Result: Dileep split MACTA to form a rival organisation FEFKA (Film Employers Federation of Kerala). Vinayan got sidelined.

“He announced in the party, which he hosted to split MACTA, that he will force me to apologise to him,” Vinayan said.

That very year, Dileep produced a blockbuster, Twenty20, where the who’s who of Malayalam cinema lined-up. The film was produced with a promise to help the financially struggling actors in AMMA.

Superstars Mohanlal, Mammootty and Suresh Gopi starred in the film. Everyone wondered how Dileep could get the star-studded cast together. “He has the ability to convince people. He plays to the gallery,” Vinayan said.

Marriage with Kavya Madhavan

This ability of Dileep to steer narratives in his favour was evident when he got married to Kavya Madhavan.

He patronisingly said in several interviews that he decided to marry Madhavan because “she was scapegoated in his name.” Dileep and Madhavan were believed to have had an affair while the former was married to Warrier.

Madhavan, who got married in 2009, got a divorce in 2011. Dileep remained married to Warrier for another four years after this.

<div class="paragraphs"><p>Kavya Madhavan (left) married Dileep in 2015.</p></div>

Kavya Madhavan (left) married Dileep in 2015.

(Image: Kamran Akhter/The Quint)

In the marriage ceremony, Dileep managed the optics as his daughter with Manju Warrier – Meenakshi – remained by his side, smiling for the cameras. Warrier, meanwhile, was targeted by the Malayali online public for “abandoning” her husband and daughter.

The actress, however, had already made a big comeback starring in the 2014 film 'How old are you?'

While both Warrier and Madhavan had at times got moralistic brickbats from the Malayali public, in a way, Women in Cinema Collective which was registered in November 2017, neutralised the public appeal of Dileep, forcing him to face his demons.

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WCC Busts the Myth

Both Mala Parvathy and Arun Gopy, who have remained close to the Dileep family, stressed more than once in their conversation with The Quint that they “want the survivor to get justice” and would want the law to take its course.

Both said they would have preferred to be the “good guys” in the narrative, hinting that public support has been raging against those who support Dileep directly or indirectly.

Meaning, by taking a stand similar to that put forth by the MeToo movement, the Women in Cinema Collective has been able to create a narrative where the survivor’s struggle became the core point of public debate. That, even those who remained close to the accused felt the need to condemn the crime.

<div class="paragraphs"><p>From left: Rima Kallingal, Parvathy Thiruvothu and Ramya Nambisan have been lead actresses who have been in the forefront of WCC.</p></div>

From left: Rima Kallingal, Parvathy Thiruvothu and Ramya Nambisan have been lead actresses who have been in the forefront of WCC.

(Image: Kamran Akhter/The Quint)

Deedi Damodaran, a senior scriptwriter who has been a part of WCC ever since its inception, said, “I have been telling the survivor that the case so far has been a success. In which other case has such a powerful accused been imprisoned for an extended period of time?”

Dileep was arrested and sent to judicial custody for 85 days. His bail application was rejected four times by the Kerala High Court, which allowed him bail the fifth time he appealed.

The Kerala government, under pressure from women filmmakers, had set up Justice Hema Commission to look into work condition of women in cinema. The report, however, is not yet public.

<div class="paragraphs"><p>Scriptwriter Deedi Damodaran who has been part of WCC since its inception.</p></div>

Scriptwriter Deedi Damodaran who has been part of WCC since its inception.

(Photo Courtesy: Facebook)

Dileep, meanwhile, engaged in what can be looked at as power play within the film industry. This, even as his relationship with AMMA got strained.

In July 2017, Dileep was ousted from the film artists association after his arrest. While young actors including Prithviraj remained supportive of the revocation of his membership, older rung of actors, including superstar Mohanlal, showed signs of wanting to take him back into the body.

Under Mohanlal, who became the president of AMMA in 2018, Dileep’s suspension from the association got revoked, leading to resignation of leading actresses Rima Kallingal, Remya Nambeesan and Geetu Mohandas from the body.

Dileep, meanwhile, tried to play it cool, saying he himself did not want to part of AMMA. Women in Cinema Collective got registered in November 2017.

The Forced Comeback

What remains a fact is that the actor’s career did not suffer, even after his arrest. Between 2017 and 2021, the actor has starred in 10 films, as per IMDb. A reason for this is the staunch support that powerful men and women of the industry have been offering him.

Arun Gopy, whose film was the first Dileep film to release after the controversy, said, “I would rather believe him over Pulsar Suni who is a known culprit.”
<div class="paragraphs"><p>Actor Dileep was arrested by the Kerala police in the female actor sexual assault case in July 2017.</p></div>

Actor Dileep was arrested by the Kerala police in the female actor sexual assault case in July 2017.

(Photo Courtesy: Twitter)

An actor-turned-politician B Ganesh Kumar, another dealmaker in the Malayalam industry, had lobbied to bring Dileep back to AMMA, newspaper reports based on outed voice clips, suggest. Dileep was the treasurer of AMMA when he was ousted from the body.

Vinayan, however, had a point to make about Dileep’s comeback. Speaking of a call he got from Dileep after he was named in the case, he said, “He called me out of the blue and thanked me for not going to television channels to condemn his role in the case. I told him that I kept away because I knew nothing about the case.”

The director who has been at loggerheads with the star for long, said Dileep could call anyone, including his enemies, for a favour. “He was convincing. I invited him subsequently to my daughter’s wedding.”

As some directors and actors remained open to Dileep’s narrative, actresses who had demanded his removal from AMMA kept feeling his power within the industry.
<div class="paragraphs"><p>Actress Sajitha Madathil who is part of WCC.</p></div>

Actress Sajitha Madathil who is part of WCC.

(Photo: The News Minute)

He insinuated in a 2018 statement that the survivor had been close to the accused Pulsar Suni, and had met him in Goa. Meanwhile, the WCC struggled, only to get more acceptance over time.

“Women did lose work. People stopped getting roles. But then we created space for ourselves working together. Now things are better,” said Sajitha Madathil, a senior actress in the industry.

As Rima Kallingal turned to production and Parvathy Thiruvothu started starring with young stars including Tovino Thomas, the lead actor in Minnal Murali, some sort of a balance seemed to prevail.

But Dileep kept bouncing back, thanks to his clout.

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Accused vs Survivor

The actress who was sexually assaulted has not yet acted in Malayalam films, since 2017. She wrote in her Instagram post, “This has not been an easy journey. The journey from being a victim to becoming a survivor. For 5 years now, my name and identity have been suppressed under the weight of the assault inflicted on me."

"Though I am not the one who committed the crime, there have been many attempts to humiliate, silence and isolate me,” she further wrote.
<div class="paragraphs"><p>Mammootty, Siddique, Jayaram, Dileep, Unni Mukundan, Mohanlal, Jayasurya and Kunjako Boban in a selfie which was released in 2020.</p></div>

Mammootty, Siddique, Jayaram, Dileep, Unni Mukundan, Mohanlal, Jayasurya and Kunjako Boban in a selfie which was released in 2020.

(Photo Courtesy: Twitter)

While Mohanlal shared the post with the message, ‘respect’, Mammootty wrote, ‘with you’. Does this mean the tides are changing, in the industry?

Dileep, his brother P Sivakumar and brother-in-law TN Suraj have moved the Kerala High Court for anticipatory bail, as fresh investigation is expected in the ‘plot to murder’ case.

However, if his recent interview in the women’s magazine is an indication, Dileep is far from over. Appealing to his mass popularity he said, “I pray that I stay alive and mentally stable till the truth comes out.”

Explaining the survivor’s situation, Deedi Damodaran said, “I am in awe of the survivor. Even when she was dragged through hell, she kept telling all of us that the truth will prevail and that she will get justice.”

A film critic, Neelima Menon wrote on twitter, that she wishes the actress makes a come back. “That will be an empowering sight,” Menon wrote.

But solidarity has not always worked out for the survivor.

Managing Splits?

The last deal that Dileep brokered in Malayalam filmdom was sealed just a few months before the assault took place.

He had managed a split in Kerala Film Exhibitors Federation (KFEF), when the body demanded a higher share of theater revenues from Kerala Film Producers Association.

In Kerala, the theaters had remained closed for two months in 2017, owing to a KFEF strike. Supported by Dileep, over 60 theatre owners formed a rival association for exhibitors – Film Exhibitors United Organisation of Kerala, which has since been calling the shots in the state. Vinayan said, “He can manage splits easily.”

What’s troubling even in the actor assault case is the support Dileep has been getting from a section of actresses in the field.
<div class="paragraphs"><p>KPAC Lalitha has been maintaining close links with Dileep.</p></div>

KPAC Lalitha has been maintaining close links with Dileep.

(Photo: The News Minute)

A split brokered over gender fault lines? Urmila Unni, a senior actress was the one to ask for Dileep’s reintroduction to AMMA in 2018. KPAC Lalitha, a seasoned actress who has been in Malayalam films since the industry’s black and white days, had in the recent past thanked Dileep for helping her during dire financial need.

“When a friend says he has not done a crime, won’t you believe the friend?” asked director Gopy, as he held firm in his support for the actor.

In Dileep’s case, because he has been immensely powerful in his field, friendship can also be called clout. In the assault case, it remains to be seen what would ultimately triumph – clout or justice.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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