If you had any doubts about exactly how much powerful men in entertainment (or any industry, for that matter) can get away with, the current revolting turn of events in the Malayalam film industry.
In February 2017, a popular Malayalam actress was abducted and sexually assaulted by a gang of six while she was travelling in her car to Kochi, after a shoot in Thrissur. The six men took photographs of the abuse to blackmail the actress into silence. When she filed a complained, the investigation unearthed a shocking conspiracy with Malayalam superstar Dileep at its centre. The powerful actor had allegedly hired the gang to assault the actress to exact revenge and ‘teach her a lesson’ for ratting him out to his then-wife, about cheating on her. Despite months of denials and slanderous statements against the victim, Dileep was ultimately arrested in July 2017 when the police found irrefutable evidence against him. Following which, he was expelled from the Association of Malayalam Movie Artistes (AMMA) and other industry organisations.
Less than one year later, even as investigations are underway, and damning evidence of his involvement in the abduction and assault of his colleague is still very much a matter of public record, the actor has been reinstated as a member by the AMMA in its first general body meeting, under new president Mohanlal’s direction. The reason? Due process was not followed while expelling the actor. So unless AMMA has reinstated Dileep only so it can expel him ‘properly’, the organisation is clearly clutching at straws to welcome its disgraced but hugely influential son back into the lovingly patriarchal family’s arms. Never mind what a stinging slap across the face this utterly insensitive and despicable move might be for the victim, who is also a member of the organisation.
Unsurprisingly, the victim has chosen to quit AMMA, stating that even before the reinstatement, the organisation had stood by like a mute spectator, watching Dileep use his substantial power to ruin her career. Three other popular and successful women from the industry — Remya Nambeesan, Geetu Mohandas and Rima Kallingal — have resigned from AMMA in solidarity with the victim, with blistering statements on Facebook, shaming AMMA for choosing to support a powerful accused instead of the victim of a crime.
It might seem like baseline decency to object to this flagrant disregard for all that is appropriate and dignified by an industry body like AMMA. But anyone even remotely familiar with the inner workings of the entertainment industry knows how truly impenetrable the bro-shield is; it protects the interests of torchbearers of male entitlement, and the absolute impunity a sack of powerful dick-paste can afford them with.
Case in point being Salman Khan, aptly and lovingly called ‘bhai’, a flaming indictment of Bollywood’s love affair with patriarchy, one that rivals Mollywood’s tryst with misogyny. In his 30-year-long career, Khan has been accused, investigated, convicted, acquitted (rinse, repeat) of a laundry list of crimes — physically abusing his then-girlfriend Aishwarya Rai, hit-and-run incident that led to one person’s death, owning illegal firearms, hunting of protected species of wildlife — and yet, his stardom and popularity seem to be completely immune to all his major and minor transgressions.
He has no trouble finding work, and no one in Bollywood seems to be averse to attaching their name to his seriously questionable one. Arjun Kapoor, who recently anointed himself the protector of women, while lambasting a website for sexualising his sister, has had no trouble declaring his unabashed support for Khan in the past. The list of his high-profile supporters, after he was convicted in the black buck poaching case in 2015 included Jaya Bachchan, Parineeti Chopra, Sonakshi Sinha, Bipasha Basu, Simi Garewal, Subhash Ghai, Kabir Bedi, Raj Kundra, and countless others who seem to believe that his humanitarian work and apparent wonderful-ness puts him above the law. Other excuses for him include how having him serve time for his crime would be a waste of his talent and a terrible loss for Bollywood. Nevermind that so far, Khan’s acting prowess rivals that of a gorilla hopped up on heroin.
Truth is, Bollywood’s overindulged and untalented spawn don’t have the balls to take on someone as influential as Khan, while those that are still struggling to make their mark can’t afford to. Khan and his family are immensely powerful and can make or ruin careers, depending on fanciful whims and perceived slights. It’s not a hill anyone in Bollywood is willing to die on (sometimes understandably so), and so, Khan’s superstardom continues, unchallenged by people who should really be doing better by the standards of morality they claim to uphold, when there’s nothing to lose.
Which is why, the courage of the four Mollywood women in putting their money where their mouth is, is something that needs to be seriously applauded. They stand to lose their careers, and gain only their dignity and self-respect in return (neither of which are, frankly, greatly valued possessions in showbiz). Dileep’s reach in Mollywood is comparable to that of Khan’s in Bollywood, and having his female colleagues stand up to him must come as a great and uncomfortable surprise to the actor who clearly presumed himself too big to be touched.
I’d like to see any of the several leading ladies of Bollywood who routinely simper and rally around Khan to grow a spine like their Mollywood counterparts have. Something tells me, it’s going to be a long, exhausting wait. But at least we now have these Mollywood badass women to look up to, in the meantime.