THE ARREST OF Dileep, one of Kerala’s most popular actors, over a plethora of charges, including gang rape, criminal conspiracy, blackmail, attempt to destroy evidence and an assortment of other alleged crimes, is a wake-up call for an Indian film industry known for its brazen misogyny, unaccounted-for wealth and cartelisation. It ought to send shockwaves all the way from Kodambakkam in Chennai to Patna and Hyderabad (the seats of the Tamil, Bhojpuri and Telugu film industries). It should also be studied closely in Mumbai, the Bollywood citadel where behind all the glamour, razzmatazz and dizzying heights of stardom and glory lie ugly truths plaguing one of the world’s top-ranking movie industries: the objectification of women, casting couches, criminal intimidation, assaults of all kind, and outright male chauvinism.
While men in the film world often enjoy an unseemly measure of impunity, Kerala has set a precedent that could put an end to it. The high and mighty of the movie business can no longer have politicians and police in their pockets. Dileep, a one-time mimicry artist who became an assistant producer and then a star and then the head of a showbiz empire in less than two decades, epitomised the privileged male of the Kerala film industry. Powerful honchos in the field of entertainment often get detached from reality by the intoxication of their success and their association with others who wield power—in the government and the underworld. In the case of Dileep, his ascent was so breathtaking in an industry otherwise dominated by two titans—Mohanlal and Mammootty—that in a set-up where respect for women was scant, he became unabashed about using his connections to extend his grip on the industry. Like never before, he began to exercise control over who was to be cast and cast out, prompting some aspirants to cling to his trousers in displays of loyalty. He would allegedly victimise heroines who refused to play ball, ensuring they had to migrate to other language cinema to pursue their careers. Apparently, men who incurred his wrath also had to pay a heavy price.
What makes this actor stand out among a battalion of misogynists is his refusal to break out of the old mould and adapt to ways that would dignify his newfound stature. According to a police officer I spoke to, he continued to surround himself with the “riff-raff”—a term he didn’t want misunderstood as representing any class bias—whose abject allegiance he would exploit, allegedly using them as owners of his ‘benami’ properties to park his hidden wealth and as operatives to help run a shady business. It was his overlordship over the underprivileged that combined with a ‘culture’ of underhand dealings to entangle the actor with Kerala’s ‘quotation’ gangsters in the film industry.
Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan’s government deserves praise for being firm and letting investigations against the actor take their course. Pundits say the role of the media and women’s groups fighting male dominance cannot be overlooked, but all those in the know would agree that without political willpower, larger-than-life celebrities such as Dileep could easily escape the rap. The police have earned plaudits for their dogged pursuit of the case against him, despite resistance from powerful people and the state’s main film association, which is ironically named AMMA (which means ‘mother’). That industry powers tried to protect Dileep and not his victim is a shame, but also proof of the deeply entrenched male supremacist culture that is finally being challenged. The unholy web of links between movie executives, intermediaries and tricksters is now beginning to unravel, thanks to the government’s resolve to crack its whip. If all the charges against Dileep are proved in a court of law, he would be sentenced to as many as 50 years in jail.
Notably, the colourful lies that Dileep had blurted out in the name of God and his parents to plead his innocence in the case of a woman actor’s sexual assault only highlight his apparent mobster mentality and utter lack of remorse. His attitude had not shown any crisis of conscience since the scandal broke. He appeared on TV just a few weeks ago, poking fun at media reports of the case. Psychiatrists who have interviewed mobsters have talked about the bizarre behaviour caused by the deviance of the criminal mind. That perhaps applies in this instance as well.