No one can solve a problem like a mother can. Or at least, like Dileep’s mother can.
Disgraced Malayalam actor Dileep, who was charged with conspiring to abduct and sexually assault another Malayalam actor in February, is currently enjoying a media rehabilitation in the form of what can only be described as his ongoing Ma-Beta “comeback tour” in Dubai.
But let’s remind ourselves of some facts about the case before we set off towards the Gulf with Dileep and his mum. Dileep was arrested in July, and released on bail on 3 October, to great celebration from friends and family. Upon his arrest, he was unceremoniously chucked out of various film unions of which he had been a member. The day after his release on bail, he was immediately reinstated as president of the Film Exhibitors United Organisation of Kerala (FEUOK).
That same day, MLA Ganesh Kumar whined to the media that the only reason Dileep was thrown out of the Association of Malayalam Movie Artistes (AMMA) was Prithviraj, and that there was no reason for AMMA to cancel his primary membership. Dileep’s own Amma couldn’t have put it better.
Naturally, Dileep’s fans have been organising themselves online and on WhatsApp groups, and also to troll Dileep’s imagined enemies. The name of a campaign that was meant to support the assaulted actor, Avalkoppam (I’m with her), was soon perverted into one that supported Dileep— Avandoppam (I’m with him).
Still, nowhere is the mad desire to whitewash Dileep’s image more clearly discernible than in his ongoing Dubai tour. Dileep received permission from the Kerala High Court on 21 November to travel to Dubai (the city to which it was persistently rumoured he had tried to smuggle the infamous memory card containing evidence of the assault). A day after this, on 22 November, the Court accepted the chargesheet against him.
He was allowed to fly to Dubai to inaugurate the fourth branch of his restaurant that specialises in a seemingly infinite variety of puttu, a Kerala breakfast staple. As you can see from the news breathlessly reporting his every move, he brought his mom along as a convenient prop. And it’s working.
Malayala Manorama’s English online edition, On Manorama, reported in painful detail that he arrived at Dubai airport with his (admittedly quite adorable) mother, was greeted by friends and gifted a shawl (I suppose to protect him from Dubai’s harsh winter).
Khaleej Times was enamoured by his mother and all mothers in general. Here’s how they reported the opening of a restaurant owned by a man accused of plotting to have a former co-star raped: “Five mothers of the seven partners of Dhe Puttu cut the ceremonial ribbon to launch the restaurant” and “Dhe Puttu was opened by mothers of seven partners in Karama.” Oooh, the imagery, oh the mamta.
Malayalis like to say Onathinidakku Puttu kachavadam (Why are you trying to sell puttu during the Onam feast?) to indicate their contempt for someone’s poor timing. Let me say that Dileep’s tour was all about the media indicating their contempt for anyone who might want to discuss sexual assault when the important matter of puttu kachavadam (selling puttu) and Dileep kachavadam (selling Dileep) was at hand. The Khaleej Times report exclusively quotes citizens who “were unmoved by the ongoing case”, and were happy to rave about the restaurant and the owner.
A dodgy news outlet called Film Magazine really took the ball and ran with it, dedicating a report to how Dileep’s mother held up Kerala’s name high. If you had any doubts about this being a comeback tour, get this — Dileep and his mother next headed to Lulu Hypermarket in Dubai. Every Malayali knows if you want to meet other Malayalis in Dubai, Lulu is the place to go. The spot is so iconic that you know he went there only to be seen. And he was.
They were mobbed by fans who stopped for selfies and to gawk, and when one of them boo-ed Dileep, his mother took him aside to lecture him about representing Malayalis properly abroad. Film Magazine adoringly calls this her “befitting reply”.
The media has also been eager to remind everyone that Dileep is a sensitive guy with feelings. Never mind that he paid to have a woman assaulted and has been accused of controlling the industry like Tony Soprano in a vicious mood, the real story here was that he “turned emotional” at the house of his late friend, the mimicry artist Abi, whose home Dileep visited in Dubai after his sudden death on 30 November.
On Manorama wrote extensively about how he “struggled hard to hold back his tears while trying to console Abi’s family members” and reminisces about the good ol’ days when Dileep and his buddy Nadirshah “ruled stages across Kerala leaving a trail of laugh riots and genuine humour”. Never mind again that Nadirshah has been linked to the case and was one of the people Pulsar Suni (the main accused) repeatedly called from jail.
It isn’t just his mum and this Dubai trip though. Dileep has made a habit of using the women around him as crutches over the years. His wife, Kavya Madhavan, continues to be under the police scanner as there are suspicions that Dileep used her boutique, Laksya, as a front to pay Pulsar Suni.
In one of his many bail applications, Dileep fantastically alleged that his ex-wife Manju Warrier and the female cop investigating him, ADGP Sandhya, were in cahoots, and were in fact the ones behind the conspiracy to abduct the actress in order to frame Dileep, and that he should therefore be let out on bail.
His fans, meanwhile, as detailed in a wildly biased Times of India report from 30 September, take their cues from their leader, and have also been attacking his (imagined) enemies. The report mentioned how Dileep fans were trolling Warrier because she had asked the Malayali public to not boycott his new movie, Ramleela. Yes, Dileep’s toxic fans took offence to the idea that she thought his movie needed her support, and tried to troll her before the release of her next. TOI thought it necessary to give voice to Dileep fans’ suspicions, without even mentioning the name of Warrier’s movie, Udaharanam Sujatha, which was the subject of the fans’ trolling and ostensibly of the report itself.
The TOI report also gave unquestioning voice to the persistent rumour that Warrier is a bad mother because their now 17-year-old daughter Meenakshi chose to live with Dileep after the divorce. Dileep has in the past leveraged Warrier and Meenakshi’s tumultuous relationship cleverly to make himself look like a great father and Warrier a bad woman, like when he made sure to score a father-daughter Vanitha magazine cover around the time of his divorce from Warrier. He most recently deployed his daughter in his 12 August bail application, where he mentions Meenakshi’s choice to live with him and not Warrier as proof that he’s a great “family man”.
So I guess Dileep using his mother as a prop now shouldn’t surprise us at all, considering that she’s only the newest member of his roster to make her PR debut. But what is surprising is the media’s willingness, even eagerness, to lap up this narrative.
Dileep used to be called the People’s Actor, but after his arrest, he seems to have become the Media’s Actor. Most Malayalis outside his rabid fan groups actually seem to have distanced themselves from the once-beloved actor, and the flop of his recent (reportedly very good and critically acclaimed) political thriller Ramleela does indicate that the Malayali public has had enough of him. Why is the media so intent on whitewashing him then? Do they feel that without Dileep the industry will collapse? Or is it a more visceral desire to prop up ‘great’ men forever?