The sordid case of the Malayalam actor who was abducted and allegedly sexually assaulted in February this year has taken a turn that many saw coming despite vigorous denials - superstar Dileep was arrested on Monday for a possible conspiracy in the case.
The shocked public of Kerala has demanded that AMMA, the Association of Malayalam Movie Artists, should be dissolved for its stance on the whole issue. And indeed, AMMA has been disgraceful in how it has chosen to deal with the crime and the subsequent investigation.
Some of its members, including Dileep, openly indulged in naming and shaming the victim on social media and TV channels. Other than saying that they'd "apologised" for their "error", AMMA did not take them to task, even though their acts were not just a violation of the law but inhumane to say the least. Especially when the victim comes from their own fraternity and needs all the support that she can get.
When news first broke out about the crime, the Malayalam film industry banded together in an apparent show of solidarity. From writing social media posts expressing their pain to organising a meet in Kochi to condemn the attack and display their support for her, the industry seemed to be rallying behind the victim.
But as is the case when allegations are made against powerful men in cases of sexual assault, the narrative began to change as soon as Dileep came into the picture. From a deafening silence from the stars who'd poured their hearts out on social media previously, it progressed to an open defence of a suspect in the case.
Dileep is the treasurer of AMMA and has been the darling of the association ever since he produced and distributed Twenty: 20, a film starring several actors from the Malayalam film industry, including the giants Mohanlal and Mammootty. All the artists worked without payment for this fundraiser to financially support struggling actors and provide for AMMA's welfare schemes.
The actor, who has been in the industry for over 25 years, was also instrumental in bringing to an end the standoff between theatre owners and distributors earlier this year.
While the 'Janapriya Nayagan' (People's Hero) as he's known is celebrated for his dynamism, there have also been indirect allegations made against him on how he ran AMMA like a â€˜boys' clubâ€™ that isolated anyone who spoke against them.
The victim in the abduction case, was, in fact, among those who'd spoken out about being denied films because her relationship with the people who mattered had soured. It was no coincidence that this happened soon after the breakdown of Dileep's marriage to his ex wife and actor Manju Warrier.
Though Dileep has denied that he'd interfered in anyone's career, others from the industry who did not wish to be named, have acknowledged that roadblocks were deliberately placed in the careers of those who went against him.
Speaking on a TV channel on Monday, director Vinayan who had a fallout with AMMA in the crisis that hit the industry in 2004, said that while he was aware of how Dileep had tried to block certain actors, he'd not expected that he'd go this far in exacting revenge.
If this was factual and common knowledge, why didn't AMMA do anything about it?
AMMA, the patriarch
The answer to that question lies in the fact that AMMA is no benevolent body that takes care of its "children", as it has been patronizingly calling the victim and Dileep in this murky affair. Some "children" have always been more equal than others.
Those who have gone against AMMA in the past, like veteran actor Thilakan, have been sidelined and virtually isolated by the industry because the powerful stars who rule the body held a grudge against them.
Thilakan had openly called out AMMA's inaction and connivance in keeping him out of films even though he was a hugely talented and established actor. He'd also alleged that there was a conspiracy against Prithviraj, who was then a star in the making, to keep him from growing too much.
Despite the show of unity that Malayalam actors put up, the fissures and politics within have risen to the top time and again.
For instance, director Baiju Kottarakkara, the president of MACTA (Malayalam Cine Technicians Association) who has been vocal in expressing his disagreement with AMMA in how it has dealt with the actor abduction case, has earlier alleged that Mohanlal was instrumental in keeping director Vinayan away from the remembrance event organised for late actor Kalabhavan Mani.
The Women in Cinema Collective was established after the actor abduction case to address the gender inequity within the film industry. Although the Collective has said that the attack on the woman actor wasn't the first, AMMA took no notice of their statement.
Instead, it went on a whitewashing spree, putting an all male panel, including Dileep, onstage to display its muscle to the media.
With Ganesh Kumar, who has a domestic violence case against him, screaming about AMMA's unity, the defensive show smacked of insensitivity and any respect for the investigation that was underway.
As for the behaviour of actor Mukesh, who once employed Pulsar Suni, the prime accused in the case, the less said the better. The two superstars - Mammootty and Mohanlal - were happy to go "mum's the word" at the AMMA press meet.
Speaking to The News Minute, a member from the WCC said that she was not in the least surprised by AMMA's display. "It has always been that way and that's why we wanted to set up the WCC," she said, adding that they were here for the long haul and did not wish to get into a confrontational mode when the police was still doing its job.
The role of Innocent, the president of AMMA, has been shameful. From confidently expressing his belief that Dileep was innocent, he went on to deny that there was any sexual harassment at all within the industry.
Innocent claimed that it was the "bad women" who went to bed with men from the industry and rubbished allegations of the "casting couch" culture, despite women from the fraternity acknowledging that sexual favours were indeed sought in return for acting opportunities.
AMMA must apologise
Though Dileep must of course get every chance to prove his innocence in the case, the police believe they have sufficient evidence to prove his involvement in the conspiracy. AMMA must introspect its actions and issue an unconditional apology to the victim who has been a real hero throughout this unsavoury incident.
Not only did she file a complaint with the police, despite knowing the enormity of the consequences of doing so when one is a celebrity, she has maintained her dignity throughout the ruckus unleashed by AMMA.
One can only imagine how hard it must have been for her to keep her emotions to herself while men like producer Saji got their platform on prime TV to tarnish her name. She has gone back to work, proving that she is not cowed down by the incident. And when Dileep indulged in some good old victim blaming, she made it clear through the media that she wouldn't put up with it.
The Association of Malayalam Movie Artists is full of heroes who have ruled the screen but they've sadly insulted a real life hero who was right under their nose and embodies the very courage and resilience that these men have sold to the audience over the years to attain their superstardom.
AMMA owes her more than a shamefaced apology and it is high time they got down from their ivory towers to do so. The greasepaint is off and the limelight is on them. The people are waiting.