It's an understatement to say that Malayalam cinema has had a profound impact on my life. As a Malayali, who was born and brought up in Chennai, it was mostly through Malayalam cinema that I stayed in touch with my roots.
I grew familiar with the different dialects in the state through cinema. I learnt what situational comedy was way before TV shows like Friends appeared on my horizon, thanks to Malayalam cinema. For a girl who grew up in a metro, Malayalam cinema was my pathway to understanding the heart of a small town, within the confines of my drawing room.
The great films that we still celebrate as classics have moved me to tears, made me laugh, taught me empathy. And though I'd never met any of these actors, who managed to puppeteer my emotions so easily, I felt like I knew them.
Mohanlal would be warm and funny in person. Mammootty would be a bit of an aristocrat but nice nevertheless. Innocent would be hilarious, dropping truth bombs all around us. People like Siddique would be the comforting uncle you'd like on your side.
These people, who'd had such a massive impact on my childhood and growing up years, were like distant yet likeable family.
You see where I'm going with this? Even as I grew up and learned to draw the distinction between actors and their reel life personas, they still remained likeable to me. I wasn't so naive as to think actors are celestial beings who have no vices. But I'd bought into the illusion created by their art for so long that when it was ripped apart, I felt cheated.
The past year has seen many fallen heroes across the world, thanks to the #MeToo movement and the innumerable testimonies pouring out from women, several of whom we thought were powerful goddesses. Women, who'd been bruised and wounded, despite their fame, money and influence which we assumed would protect them.
Many of us have had to re-evaluate our ideas about the people we put on pedestals. For me, and several others, the events that unfolded since February 2017 when a Malayalam woman actor was abducted and assaulted, have felled several giants. It hit home very close, making us wonder if we can continue to cheer for these stars as they come on screen, as if nothing has changed.
We can say we should separate the art from the artiste, but must we?
Must we ignore what the Malayalam film industry is doing to one of their own? Of course, as a certain section of women in the industry has been saying, it isn't as if the industry has been free of sexual harassment and exploitation. Whispers about such instances have always floated around about celebrities and it was easy to pretend they were rumours, just gossip.
The stars we revered remained free of taint because under the spotlight, they said the right things. They played the heroes.
But since February 2017, there is something to be said for how blatantly the industry - men and women - has ganged up against the survivor, ridiculing those who have stood up for her and turning a wilful, blind eye to the legal process that is still underway. The minute it came to be known that the accused was a powerful man from their own midst, they abandoned any pretension of standing by what is right.
Can artistes be so callous? How can a profession which requires one to walk in the other's shoes, breathe as another person, live with their mind and thoughts, produce such uncaring, insensitive, inhumane beings? Or is this an indication of just how good they are at their job, hiding the rot that lies in their hearts so successfully? Outraging on social media about Kathua while showing their support to the rape accused in their own backyard?
Or is this because if they speak up, there are too many shameful secrets in their own closets which will come out tumbling and they cannot afford to take that risk?
Now that the masks have come off, what does it say about us that they think they can get away with this? Of course, when the accused Dileep's fanbase appears untouched, why must those supporting him have any fear? We get the politicians we deserve, they say. Perhaps we also get the artistes we deserve.
The only way a member of the public can dissent is to refuse to watch the films they sell to us. But I can tell you already that I have no plans to boycott Malayalam cinema because of the disgraceful way in which most of the industry has behaved. I will continue to watch these films because cinema as a medium, as an art form, is still something I respect. But just as after a break-up, you are able to view the relationship you invested your time and effort in with a lot more clarity, look at whom you loved with sudden insight, so too has the larger-than-life image of these stars shrunk in my eyes.Turned to dust.
The next time a Mammootty or a Lalettan thunders on screen about standing up for what is right, the next time they deliver righteous lines on integrity, I wonder how convincing they will be to women like me.
If, especially, they flex their muscle to save a damsel in distress, I'm afraid I might burst out laughing.