Originally published 12 July 2017.
One of my uncles has developed an unshakeable belief in the primacy and supremacy of the legal system as of 5 pm yesterday evening. The new-found belief coincides exactly with the Kerala police arresting actor Dileep in connection with the case of the abduction and sexual assault of a Malayalam actor in February. “You see, they have only arrested him,” he teaches me kindly, “He has not yet been tried in The Court of the Law (capitals mine but surely also his). Until then, you should not label him as a rapist. I believe everyone is innocent until proven guilty. That’s in the Constitution.”
This is, by the way, the same uncle who whole-heartedly believes that Manju Warrier, Dileep’s ex-wife, must be a bad mother because her daughter decided to live with Dileep after their divorce, and who also has no problem endorsing slogans like, “Not all Muslims are terrorists but all terrorists are Muslims,” but sure, let’s wait for the court to rule that Dileep is a creepy criminal before jumping to any conclusions here.
This whole story, of course, began with the abduction and sexual assault of a popular Malayalam actor back on the 17th of February. As soon as news of the crime broke, rumours began to swirl that the assault was engineered by actor Dileep. It was said that he had paid goons to abduct and assault the actor — whom he’d worked with in movies before their falling out — in order to exact revenge and teach her a lesson. Malayalis had anchored themselves firmly on both sides of the so-called debate, with some, like actor Salim Kumar and the Association of Malayalam Movie Artistes endorsing Dileep’s innocence and their intention to stand behind him, while others believed the rumours of his involvement, or at least were fine with waiting for more details before exonerating him of all blame.
To be honest, back in February, I too was initially in a state of ill-informed denial when I first heard the immediate rumours of Dileep’s involvement in the case. Not because I had any particular affection for him or anything, but just because it was so unprecedented, so uniquely horrifying, that I thought it had to be the product of an over-enthusiastic rumour mill that was already working overtime when news of the assault broke. Naively, I also put some stock in Dileep’s own vehement denial of his involvement in the case on social media. I didn’t think anyone would be audacious enough to angrily and publicly declare that they were innocent without even being asked to make a statement unless they truly were innocent and upset by rumours that they were not.
As the weeks went by though, and Kerala police began focusing their investigation more and more on the involvement of Dileep and his director friend Nadirsha, it became clear (to me, I mean) that there must be something here. It wasn’t too hard to believe: This was, after all, a man famously accused of years of blacklisting the assaulted actor in the movie industry because of his personal enmity against her, and who had also once said that he married his current wife, actor Kavya Madhavan, because there were anyway rumours that they were together and he didn’t want her to have a “bad name”.
Wouldn’t it be a strange world if actors married everyone they were rumoured to be hooking up with?
My cousin R doesn’t share her father’s firm new belief in evidence or due process of law as she pronounces Dileep’s wife, Kavya Madhavan, guilty of literally everything under the sun. “Idhinde okke karanam aa Kavya Madhavan anne (This is all that Kavya Madhavan’s fault),” she declares, angrier than I ever remember her. “And now, avalde karyam Govinda” (untranslatable. The best I can give you is: “Her life is fucked”). My cousin invokes the Kardashian curse as she says, “Even her first marriage ended within one year. Now see what she’s gone and done. If it was just once, you could imagine the reason was something else. But two marriages ending in a year? You can’t ignore her role in all this.”
This is clearly a sentiment that Malayali trolls and meme-makers, forever feeling the pulse of God’s own people, have picked up on: The last 12 hours have seen people on Malayali WhatsApp groups sharing what they imagine is a now prescient clip of Dileep from one of his movies, where he gestures at Kavya Madhavan, his wife in the movie and IRL, and says, “It’s all the aishwaryam that my new bride has brought me.”
Other Malayalis are angry minus the misogyny. As soon as news of the arrest broke, it was reported that Malayalis had taken to the streets in protest, and had flocked to Dileep’s various residences and business establishments in order to boo and catcall Dileep, throw rocks at the windows of his businesses, and also to terrorise the patrons of his restaurant, Dhe Puttu, who apparently ran away screaming. Or maybe they just ran away.
My aunt G seems to agree with R when she says that the blame’s to be shared here, and we can’t heap it all on Dileep alone. After all, it’s clear to some that it isn’t all Dileep’s fault: Kavya Madhavan and her mother, too, have been involved here in some way. The police raided the office of the boutique and online store that Kavya Madhavan and her mother run, called Laksyah, in search of a memory card of an almost mythological stature (and location still unknown), in which Pulsar Suni, the main accused in this case, had recorded videos of the actor’s assault.
“Dileepinde karyamokke okay (Dileep’s involvement and all is okay),” she says, “Aa Kavya Madhavano? (What about that Kavya Madhavan?) Two ladies doing this to another lady? Even if Dileep is involved, you can see who is the real mastermind here.”
As far as conspiracy theories go, G valiyamma’s is a pretty straightforward one. My Malayali colleague’s mother has a more meta conspiracy-in-a-conspiracy angle on the whole thing, and it goes back to January this year. Back then, Dileep, who headed a committee of theatre owners, producers and distributors, was responsible for breaking a strike by theatre owners who were, at the time, refusing to screen films because they wanted a larger share of the profits. She says that Dileep, through his new committee and the theatres he owns in Kerala, earned the enmity of the theatre owners when he broke the strike, and that they then staged this assault and implicated Dileep in order to get back at him.
We Malayalis go to great lengths to protect our own. The Association of Malayalam Artistes (AMMA) has been tying itself into knots over the last few months to simultaneously cover its ass while not getting its friend into trouble (Dileep, until about an hour ago at the time of writing, was the treasurer of AMMA). Last month, AMMA said that it stands by both Dileep and the assault survivor because both actors are AMMA’s children. I guess now that he’s been arrested, they’re distancing themselves from this Faustian bargain, and an hour ago, expelled Dileep from its ranks.
Dileep was known in Kerala as the ‘Janapriya Nayakan‘, or ‘People’s Actor’, and the People’s Actor doesn’t fall from prodigal son status without causing some tears to be shed along the way. Newspapers have reported breathlessly that his ex-wife and member of the newly-created Women in Cinema Collective, Manju Warrier, broke into tears when she heard the news of Dileep’s arrest. Others found it equally interesting that Dileep himself burst into copious tears during his interrogation, headed by ADGP B Sandhya.
My cousin P is a huge Dileep fan, and is personally affronted at the turn of events. “How could he do this? Doesn’t he know he has fans like me,” she almost sobs irrelevantly, “What about us?” (I don’t know, what about you?) “I never thought he could do something like this. I can feel it in my heart, the middle of my heart (edanenji) is breaking.” Her sister, also P, calls her a fool, and tells me that she’ll probably roam around morose and inconsolable for days now, just like she did when Dileep remarried.
As always, my great uncle with a name so stereotypically Malayali it still makes me laugh (so let’s just call him N), has the last word. “What has happened has happened. Inni njan avande oru padum kannilya. Avande mogam TV’ll vanna njan angane channel matum. (Now I’ll never watch any of his movies again. If I even see his face on TV, I’ll change the channel right there).”
Co-published with Firstpost.