(This article was first published on 29 June 2018 and has been reposted from The Quint’s archives. This story was published before AMMA President Mohanlal announced at a press conference in Kochi on 19 October 2018, that he had personally called Dileep and asked him to tender his resignation. The actor apparently readily gave in his letter and it was accepted by the committee. On 12 October, actor Parvathy Thiruvothu took to social media to announce her resignation from AMMA citing remarks made by the film body’s general secretary Babu about the victim in the Dileep abduction case.)
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To say the Malayalam film industry has been split down the middle would be an exaggeration, but the signs are ominous. With prominent veteran male actors taking control of the Association of Malayalam Movie Artistes (AMMA), occupying the main posts and using their clout to bring back disgraced superstar Dileep into the fold, it is Malayalam film industry’s Deewar moment.
“Mere Paas Amma hai”, it would seem, for Dileep.
An Unwelcome Return
In July last year, Dileep was named as an accused in the conspiracy hatched to abduct and sexually assault a leading Malayalam actress in February 2017. Dileep, a veteran of 130 Malayalam films over 24 years, was arrested, and public outrage forced the AMMA to show Dileep the door. Incidentally, Dileep who is referred to as `Janapriya Nayakan' (Popular Hero) was the treasurer of the AMMA when he was removed.
This Sunday, the AMMA under its new president, superstar Mohanlal, decided to embrace Dileep once again.
The reaction was furious. On Wednesday, four actresses quit AMMA, to send across the message that the Association no longer represented their cause.
This included the survivor of the assault, who wrote in her resignation statement, “Prior to this, this actor has snatched away opportunities of acting from me. When I had complained at that time, AMMA did not act seriously on my complaint. And when such a terrible incident happened, an organisation that I am also a part of tried to protect the man who has been accused of the crime. Realising that there is no purpose in being a part of such an organisation, I hereby resign.”
Three other prominent actresses – Rima Kallingal, Remya Nambeeshan and Geetu Mohandas – followed suit. Mohandas, who is also a director, slammed AMMA's leadership in her parting note. She wrote:
“AMMA needs people who follow the decision of the leadership without questioning. Our voices are getting drowned there. We cannot allow that anymore. I stand by my friend and will fight AMMA’s irresponsible actions from outside.”
Backlash Against Women’s Assertion?
A positive fallout of the unfortunate incident of assault was the formation of the Women in Cinema Collective (WCC), where incidentally Dileep's ex-wife, Manju Warrier played a prominent part. This body, perhaps realising AMMA's culture of patriarchy and misogyny, was formed to focus on the issues of the women actors and technicians in the Malayalam film industry. What the resignations have done is to divorce WCC from AMMA.
Mollywood's decision to defer to Dileep isn't surprising. Not only is he a saleable star, he is also a producer and an influential exhibitor. Before his arrest, Dileep was not only an important part of AMMA, he also headed the Film Exhibitors United Organisation of Kerala (FEUOK). The industry is controlled by these two outfits and FEFKA which is the Film Employees Federation of Kerala.
The small size of the industry means it has led to a monopolising of power structures.
The late Thilakan, a brilliant character actor, accused the outfits of behaving like a mafia controlled by superstars and was slapped with a ban which meant he went without work for close to two years.
An indication that AMMA will sail with Dileep came during the show organised by the organisation in May this year. A skit called ‘Whassup Sthree Shakthi Formation’, a thinly disguised dig at the WCC, was staged on the occasion. It ridiculed the actors who play a prominent role in the Collective, making it clear what AMMA thought of the WCC. Both Mohanlal and Mammootty were present on stage when the barbs were directed at actresses who had floated WCC as a counterpoint to AMMA.
A Message to Female Actors?
What does the decision to sail with Dileep say about the Malayalam film industry and its superstars? That they care two hoots about public perception. Worse, they aren't worried about how the women talent feels about working in the industry. The attitude perhaps is that they are dispensable and can always be replaced with talent from Tamil Nadu, Andhra or Mumbai.
Dileep’s two movies that released after he was jailed – Ramleela and Kammara Sambhavam – did reasonably well. That is used as proof to say Dileep has public support.
It is accompanied by a PR overdrive about his charity work to say Dileep has his heart in the right place. The point being made is that till he is convicted by a court, he should be deemed innocent.
As a legal position, that is correct. But here it is about perception. What is the great hurry for AMMA to rehabilitate Dileep, when he is still a rape accused? Does Mohanlal realise that the message he is sending to everyone working in the industry is that AMMA is not pro-victim? That the likes of Mohanlal and Mammootty reserve their heroism to rescue the heroine in distress only between ‘Action' and `Cut' before the camera and not in real life.
AMMA, you realise, is such an inappropriate acronym.
(The writer is a senior journalist. He can be reached at @Iamtssudhir. 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.)