Like the Amitabh-Jaya-Rekha triangle that Bollywood can never get enough of, Dileep-Manju-Kavya was Kerala's favourite scandal from the film industry. Though considerably more low profile than the Bachchans, the gossip about the three actors unfailingly made it to film magazines and websites giving fodder to idle speculation for about 20 years.
How much truth was there in the tales? Could it be smoke without fire? Every statement made, every appearance at an award ceremony, every comment on social media was scrutinized to dig deeper for "evidence".
In the process, the media and the public sometimes forgot that these were real human beings, made of flesh and blood, who were affected by the endless rumours.
After many years of will they-won't they, Kavya Madhavan and Dileep got married on Friday in a simple ceremony at a hotel in Kochi. The suddenness of the wedding only added more drama to an already intriguing tale of romance and heartbreak.
In the 90s, Manju Warrier was the reigning queen of the Malayalam industry. The actor had entered the industry at the young age of 16 and had quickly established herself as a bankable performer who could play a wide range of roles, from the innocent woman-child as she did in "Kaliveedu" to the devious seductress in "Kannezhuthi Pottumthottu".
Her co-star, Dileep, who also entered films in the 90s, was a talented mimicry artist who first tried his hand at direction before he made his debut in 1994 with "Manathe Kottaram".
When Manju met Dileep, sparks flew. Their first film together, "Sallapam" was in 1996. They starred in three other films, "Kudammatam", "Ee puzhayum kadannu" and "Thooval Kottaram" together.
After four years of being in a secret relationship, Manju and Dileep got married on 20 October 1998 at Aluva Sri Krishna Temple. Their whirlwind romance and wedding did not happen with the full approval of their respective families.
With marriage came Manju's retirement from films. The news broke the hearts of lovers of cinema although they were happy to see their favourite on screen couple uniting.
But news about trouble in their marriage surfaced some years after the wedding although the couple brushed aside the speculation. They were trying to protect their daughter, Meenakshi, from the rumour mills.
According to reports, Manju was unhappy with Dileep's increasing closeness to Kavya Madhavan, who had entered the industry as a child actor in 1991 and had grown to become a popular heroine with her debut as lead actor in 1999. There was also speculation that Manju wanted to make a comeback to films and that Dileep was against this.
Kavya Madhavan and Dileep consistently denied rumours about their relationship but their onscreen chemistry was undeniable. Beginning from "Chandrannudikkunna Dikhil" where they were paired together for the first time in 1999 (Kavya was only 14 then), they went on to do 20 more films together as hero-heroine.
(Dileep and Kavya in Sadanandande Samayam in 2003)
In 2009, Kavya Madhavan married Nischal Chandra, a Gulf-based businessman only to separate from him within a very short period.
The reason given was that she was subjected to dowry harassment and domestic violence, a charge that Nischal's family denied.
A leaked audio conversation between Nischal’s mother and a family friend was used to tarnish Kavya’s reputation.
Kavya came back to films and continued to act although her serial pairing with Dileep came to an end.
Meanwhile, Manju made a comeback to films with "How Old Are You?" in 2014, a woman-centric blockbuster that seemed to have been inspired by her own life in several parts.
Unable to sort out their differences, Manju and Dileep finally divorced in January 2015. There was much mudslinging happening around it, especially targeting Manju. The slant given to the news was that she was a "selfish" woman for prioritising her career over her marriage. The news that their daughter Meenakshi chose to live with her father than her mother added spice to the gossip.
Social media was rife with nasty comments against the divorce and even Manju's friends who came out in support of the actor, were abused. There were also rumours that Dileep had tried to block her entry into films as much as possible because of his network in the industry.
Post the divorce, however, Kavya and Dileep did Adoor Gopalakrishnan's "Pinneyum". The two of them also gave an interview together to Vanitha magazine. Though they denied rumours that they were together, with Dileep once taking to Facebook to lambast the media for speculation, they were unable to keep the secret any more. The film industry, at any rate, knew about it and the media always took special interest at their appearances.
The wedding on Friday may have come as a surprise to many but it was only the timing of the event that was unknown and not the relationship itself, several have said.
Dileep, however, seems keen to maintain the facade, saying, "We did only one crime and that was acting together in 21 films. She was a scapegoat in my name. So, I thought I would marry her."
With the news of the wedding, support from the public has already started pouring in for Manju Warrier, claiming that the actor's stance had been vindicated. But Manju, who seems to have moved on from the murkiness is yet to speak. And when she does, she's likely to keep the dignity that she has maintained over the years about her private life.
Though Dileep and Kavya have been getting a bit of flak, many fans have come forward to wish the couple a good life.
This is a bittersweet ending to a "love triangle" that Kerala was obsessed with for close to two decades.