Dileep assault case and Hyderabad drug scandal have exposed the rot in Malayalam, Telugu film industry
Time Mollywood and Tollywood cleaned up their act.
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In the last one month, two prominent film industries in south India have found themselves hitting the headlines for all the wrong reasons. Kochi and Hyderabad have found themselves rocked by two scandals, with prominent actors and directors giving more of their call sheet time with investigating agencies and courts than on sets.
Dileep's arrest in the case involving abduction and molestation of a fellow actress has exposed the dark underbelly of Mollywood (Malayalam film industry) - a world where cliques regularly employ strong-arm tactics to intimidate and pummel just about anyone into submission.
The Janapriya Nayakan (Popular Hero), as Dileep is referred to, has been found to have feet of clay. With bail being denied by the Kerala High Court on Monday, July 24, and the Kerala Police claiming strong evidence against Dileep, the superstar's film career may well be over.
Tollywood, on the other hand, is rocked by the drug scandal, with several filmstars accused of being habituated to substance abuse. What makes the case worrisome is that over 1,000 people in Hyderabad, including school students and filmstars, were found to be part of the customer database when a dozen-odd drug peddlers were arrested earlier this month.
The case could take a serious turn if evidence is unearthed which proves that some of the filmstars are also sub-peddlers of psychedelic drugs like LSD, ecstasy and molecule.
But the story is not about the Malayalam and the Telugu film industries being on the back foot. It is about the manner in which both have reacted, accusing the messenger - the media - of spreading canards about filmstars, spoiling reputations.
Superstar Dileep's film career may well be over.
While there is no case for the media - by no means, a homogenous entity - to behave irresponsibly, what the film celebs do not realise is that the investigation is being carried out by the Kerala Police and the Telangana Excise department and the media is merely doing its job by reporting on it and raising relevant questions.
Most believe that if it were not for the Kerala media staying on the Dileep story, there were too many powerful vested interests who would have buried the case. It was more than evident in the manner in which actor-turned-LDF MLAs Mukesh and Ganesh Kumar stoutly defended Dileep on a public forum, just days before he was arrested.
What is coming into the public domain now is the manner in which Dileep with his diversification into production, distribution and exhibition, tried to control the various industry associations. This meant anyone who was on the wrong side of the superstar - for personal or professional reasons - found himself shunned by the industry bigwigs because such was Dileep's clout.
The victim of the abduction and molestation was one such case, where she did not get any roles in Malayalam cinema for the last three years and had to migrate to Chennai and Hyderabad to find work. All because she had reportedly sided with Manju Warrier, Dileep's first wife who he divorced to marry another actress, Kavya Madhavan.
The high court's observation that there is prima facie evidence against Dileep, while dismissing his bail plea, has turned the tide of public opinion in Kerala further against him. It will also hopefully serve as a warning to any star that he cannot take his screen image for granted. That the tide can turn against anyone, however high and mighty he is.
If the Dileep case is a thriller involving hired gangs, threats and blackmail, the land of Baahubali is hitting a new low in its attempt to get high. In the last one week, the roll call of heroes, heroines, directors, cinematographers before the Special Investigation Team has shown the stars at their vulnerable worst. Reason enough for maverick filmmaker Ram Gopal Varma to attribute motives to the Excise sleuths. In return, the cops threatened him with a defamation case.
RGV's argument that school students should be similarly exposed in public, reveals an immature and an irresponsible mindset. Adolescents try out banned substances under peer pressure, for the thrill of it and the lack of awareness about the harm the drugs may do to their mind and body. They need to be handled with care. Film stars are not uninformed adults. While it is possible that many induldge in such illicit activities to be seen as belonging to a hip crowd, they are expected to know that their acts are a violation of the NDPS (Narcotics Drugs and Psychotropic Substances) Act, 1985.
Equally important is their stature as role models in society and they have only themselves to blame for the mess they find themselves in. It is also the result of ignoring warnings in the past. Seven years ago, a similar drug bust had found connections with Tollywood bigwigs. Nothing happened after the initial brouhaha and many of the same names are figuring on the hitlist this time.
In Kerala, Dileep has reportedly hired a PR agency to protect his name and reputation. In the Telugu film industry, actress Charmee has gone to the Hyderabad High Court to protect her name. There is concern that mere questioning by the SIT is being seen as pronouncement of guilt.
Actor Navdeep, for instance, refused to give samples of blood, nails and hair. While the Excise Department says it will take samples only with written consent, in the public perception, refusal to cooperate is seen as an admission of wrongdoing. The industry is caught in a bind, where their image built over years has taken a beating.
The Telugu film world has to step up and use this as an opportunity to clean up its act, both in Telangana-Andhra and in Kerala. The first step in Hyderabad would be to stop living in denial. The second would be to help those who need rehabilitation.
As far as Kerala is concerned, its different associations need to be more accountable and not let themselves be hijacked by a few powerful superstars. The Dileep case is a rude wake-up call and Mollywood would do well to press the reset button.