It's only been a few days since actor Dileep, known as 'Janapriya Nayagan' or the people's hero, has been arrested by the police in connection with the alleged conspiracy behind the abduction and sexual assault of a prominent woman actor from the Malayalam film industry.
While most of the Malayalam film industry was protective of Dileep as rumours and accusations began to do the rounds ever since the attack on the woman actor on February 17, the arrest seemed to have silenced the defenders. Momentarily, at least.
However, though the case is still under investigation and Dileep remains in police custody, there is now a concerted effort to defend him by his supporters who are looking to re-brand him as a "saviour" who could not have committed such a crime. Just like Salman 'Bhai' of Bollywood who is always projected as a magnanimous and helpful person by the industry despite the serious allegations and cases against him, Dileep 'Ettan' supporters too are attempting the same.
Overnight a lot of articles have popped up about Dileepâ€™s benevolence and charity work. While this article on Vanitha (Manorama group) talks about a destitute mother and daughter who were given a house by a trust run by Dileep, another on Manorama talks about producer Fareed Khan whose son, suffering from cancer, had a smile on his face when he saw Dileep on TV.
The "evidence" of Dileep's innocence appears to be the belief that he is an "artist" who couldn't have committed such a crime. Especially when he has given money to charity.
Clearly, the timing of these articles is not a coincidence. As Mathrubhumi points out in this article, right before his separation from Manju Warrier and until now, Dileep has successfully many times changed the narrative in his favour. The report says that the wave of sympathetic posts is trying to change the mindset of readers, without even them realising it. It also alleges that PR agencies have been given the work of spreading this pro Dileep image.
Image courtesy: Facebook/Manju Warrier
A poster which has sprung up outside Aluva sub jail, where Dileep is currently held, reads 'We support Dileep'. It also says, "Now you can make fun of him, boo him. But if he was trapped in the case, what you will see is Janapriyan's kingly re-entry."
A Facebook page titled 'Stand With Dileep' has also come up.
Pulimurugan director Vysakh, while asserting that he stood by the survivor of the attack, prefaced the solidarity with a long recollection of his "moving" friendship with Dileep.
"This was the time when I became the director's assistant for Kochi Rajavu. I was really worried about it. And then the hands of friendship and love fell on me...the hands of the hero. That's the first time I interacted with actor Dileep. His heart that keeps his loved ones close, is precious.
Then during the time of 20-20, Dileep introduced me to its director Joshi sir and told him that he believed in my calibre. Dileepettan has always been a wonder for me...a person who rises above all odds with his will power.
At the sets, once, I committed a mistake and I lied about it to save my face. But Dileepeettan held me close and advised me that Cinema is not just our work, but is also our God and that we shouldn't lie. One will always get a chance to make things better, he told me."
Image courtesy: Facebook/Vysakh
Vysakh then goes on to say that he directed a film with Dileep and finally gets around to talking about the survivor.
He says, "The crime that happened to my woman colleague is something that came as a rude shock to me. I have worked with her during my times as an assistant director. After the incident, I met her abroad on the sets of a film and we spoke at length. She should get justice, I pray for that."
After this perfunctory paragraph on the survivor's pain, Vysakh goes back to lauding Dileep again and the trauma that he felt when the arrest happened.
"But, on the day Dileepettan was arrested, I felt a pain that one would have when the earth splits."
He goes on to assert that Dileepettan couldn't have done this because he knows how much "love and tenderness" he has for his daughter, mother, and sister, as well as Vysakh's daughter. He also claims that since Dileep is an artist, he cannot have committed the crime or instigated anyone to do it on his behalf. He goes on to say that if Dileep is innocent, a great injustice has been meted out to him.
Vysakh seems to believe that people with criminal tendencies cannot have loving families or be artistically inclined. If we filtered out people on this criteria, prisons would be near empty and not overflowing.
One is not sure what "injustice" Vysakh is referring to here. Nobody has denied Dileep his fundamental rights. He has been provided legal counsel and the investigating is progressing according to its course.
In fact, if Dileep had been an ordinary person and not a celebrity, it's likely that his arrest would have taken place much earlier. The police waited for several months to gather what they call "irrefutable evidence" to make the arrest.
If it's the media interest in the case that Vysakh is referring to, it must be noted that the media has played a key role in keeping up the pressure on the government and the police to solve the case and bring to justice all the players involved.
Further, the survivor has gone through character assassination and insensitive commentary from celebrities, panelists and speakers, including Dileep, who were keen to pin the crime on Pulsar Suni alone.
Image courtesy: Facebook/Actor Siddique
On a Facebook fan page of actor Siddique, who is known to be close to Dileep, a post supporting the latter has been put up.
Comparing Dileep to businessman Bobby Chemmannur, who was accused of "brutally abusing" a woman, the post asks why nobody has been able to do anything about it. It goes on to claim that "the media, politicians, and feminists of Kerala" were picking on Dileep and asks why the youth who vandalized Dileep's properties did not protest outside Chemmannur's shops.
Although the post begins by saying Dileep must be punished if he is guilty, the theorizing on Bobby Chemmannur makes it appear as if the person will be satisfied only if all the men accused of sexual violence are caught or none at all.
Like Vysakh, the post too has protested against the "media trial" of his friend although nobody had a problem with the 'AMMA trial' which declared Dileep innocent only because he said so.
At a time when social media has become a powerful tool in influencing public opinion, the changing narrative in the sexual assault case is cause for concern.
A social media user has repeatedly pasted the same comment across discussions on the issue. The comment seeks to remind people of all the "welfare" measures that Dileep has undertaken in the past:
"What the Malayali aspired for has been achieved- Dileep arrested. Let those who waited for the downfall of one more human, sleep tight tonight. In the midst of all this, remember one thing. It was Dileep who started the plan to construct houses for the homeless, he gave money to a lot of impoverished people in the film industry. But let us conveniently forget all that."
The person goes on to ask why Dileep's properties were vandalized and then goes on to say that even if Dileep has committed the crime, people should think about what "forced" him to do so. "When there are so many woman actors in the industry, why did Dileep have enmity with only the survivor?" he asks.