Kerala superstar Dileep’s arrest for actress assault raises questions about male arrogance

Gautaman Bhaskaran
Gautaman BhaskaranJul 11, 2017 | 12:21

Kerala superstar Dileep’s arrest for actress assault raises questions about male arrogance

The Malayalam movie industry is a classic example of male chauvinism, an open book where one can read how male actors have tended to be utterly autocratic, having the last say in just about everything, including the choice of an actress for a film.

Admittedly, this is a worldwide phenomenon. We see this even in Hollywood, let alone in Bollywood and the other Woods in India. This kind of male supremacy even involves discrepancies in pay packets.

However, what seemed appallingly different in Kerala was the kind of boys' camaraderie when it came to the humiliation, hurt and harassment suffered by a renowned Malayalam actress – when she was abducted and assaulted in her own car by a “contract criminal” in February.

I have heard of contract assassins, never one hired to abuse and assault. So, probably, Kerala – a state high on literacy and health – is the first place where men are hired (maybe for a hefty fee) to molest women! And in this case, the whole thing was also videographed with the intention to blackmail. How vicious the whole thing could have got.

On Monday (July 10, 2017), one of the three Malayalam superstars, Dileep (the other two being Mammootty and Mohanlal), was arrested in connection with the actress' assault.

Shockingly, while the case of the actress' assault was being investigated, the Kerala movie fraternity kept mum. Rather, some of the big actors even reportedly made snide remarks against the victim of a horrible crime.

And imagine this in a country that rose almost in revolt when Nirbhaya was raped and murdered in New Delhi some years ago. Since then, India has been most alive to this form of evil. But the Malayalam film industry appeared to be dismissive about the horrific plight of the actress.

And with a media baying for the blood of the guilty, it seemed nothing short of scandal when a couple of MLAs and an MP seemed to belittle the enormous gravity of the crime. The MLAs were seen screaming at the assembled reporters in a media conference. Okay, they apologised the next morning, perhaps after being chastised by their party, the ruling CPI(M).

Following the arrest of Dileep, the police said the case was one of revenge and vendetta. Dileep was supposedly angry with the actress for having interfered in his personal affair involving two women – one his former wife, actress Manju Warrier, and two, his current spouse, also actress Kavya Madhavan. (Incidentally, Dileep and Kavya were paired in Adoor Gopalakrishnan's latest work, Pinneyum.)

kavya-embed_071117121831.jpgDileep with his actress wife Kavya Madhavan.

Be that as it may, what has emerged out of all this muck is a lotus, called Women in Cinema Collective.

On May 18, 15 Malayalee women professionals met the Kerala CM, Pinarayi Vijayan. They informed him that they had formed the Collective, and also requested him to probe gender issues in the movie industry.

Bina Paul, a member of the Collective and vice-chairperson of the Kerala Chalachitra Academy (which organises the annual Kerala International Film Festival), wrote in a recent article in The Indian Express: “This move (formation of the Collective) was met with much consternation: from poking fun at a selfie being taken with the CM to suspicion about the 'bad portrayal by women' of the Malayalam movie industry, the reactions were varied. It was almost as if a Pandora’s box had been opened.

“What prompted all of us to suddenly get together? The immediate catalyst was a much-publicised incident that took place with a colleague, who had the guts to speak out. Sympathy flowed for her, but nobody seemed to be asking the right questions or providing any answers. That case is now being handled by the police, but what of the many other incidents where we are told not to raise a hue and cry? Or, what of the actress who fights a lone battle against the hotel staff who violated her privacy? A culture of normalised silence holds sway.”

Paul agrees in her article that the issue of women's rights is a worldwide scenario. “The gender bias in Hollywood is well known. Women like (actress) Geena Davis have, for years, been vociferous critics of the gender imbalance in the media.”

The Collective plans to take on these matters – maybe head on -- and she quotes Gandhi to affirm how women power has been so important in India in bringing about change.

“Many years ago Mahatma Gandhi proved that it was the 'feminisation' of the freedom struggle that made it so successful. In an age when women did not step out, he motivated them to participate, and be equal stakeholders. Women seek a film industry where gender is not a disadvantage. Jokingly, we say that perhaps a statutory title 'no person was discriminated against on the basis of race, religion, caste or gender, in the making of this movie' could be an important step!”

Indeed, but what I feel really sad about is the kind of silence – some have read this as approval – about the assault on a woman, silence especially from her own male colleagues. If this is not male arrogance, what then is it?

Last updated: July 12, 2017 | 11:35
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