Why AMMA and the Kerala film industry reek of misogyny

Why AMMA and the Kerala film industry reek of misogyny

That’s the way patriarchy works. No support for rape survivors in AMMA, but full support for alleged rapist, actor Dileep.

By Aashika Ravi

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The Association of Malayalam Movie Artistes (AMMA), the largest actors’ body in Kerala, has been making headlines for the past two weeks after it decided to reinstate Malayalam superstar Dileep. Dileep is currently being investigated on charges of conspiracy for allegedly masterminding the abduction and sexual assault of a Malayalam actress in February 2017.

Last February, a Malayalam actress was abducted and sexually assaulted in a car by six people, after which she was left near the home of director Lal. She filed a police complaint and in a few days, the suspects were arrested. The prime accused in the case was Pulsar Suni, a man with whom Malayalam superstar Dileep was discovered to have communicated through go-betweens both before and after the attack. Months of media speculation on Dileep’s involvement followed Suni’s arrest, during which AMMA extended their support to both the victim and Dileep because they were both “children of AMMA”.

During the interim period before Dileep’s arrest, various actors publicly voiced the most ridiculous theories on what they thought had happened. Dileep also made a public statement to the victim on how she should “keep better company”.

The only positive response to the incident came in the form of the creation of the Women in Cinema Collective. A group of women working in the industry including Parvathy TK, Anjali Menon and Manju Warrier formed the WCC, ostensibly to meet the needs of women in the industry, but also as a clear indication of their lack of faith in AMMA’s abilities to deal with the abduction and assault case fairly. On May 18, they submitted a petition to the Kerala Chief Minister demanding a full and fair inquiry into this case.

Dileep was finally arrested on July 10 on charges of conspiracy. The following day, AMMA held an emergency meeting in then-General Secretary Mammootty’s house and decided to expel Dileep from AMMA. 

Dileep was booked under several sections of the Indian Penal Code, including 376D (gang rape), 366 (kidnapping) and 120B (criminal conspiracy). He had allegedly masterminded this plot against his former co-star to “teach her a lesson” because the victim was a friend of his ex-wife, Manju Warrier and had informed Warrier about his philandering. Dileep was refused bail on several occasions, with the Kerala High Court stating that he was a powerful star who could destroy evidence or influence witnesses if released. In early October, he was finally released on conditional bail.

But recently, in a PR (and moral) disaster for AMMA, on June 24, 2018, AMMA held its first general meeting under its new President, Mohanlal. Immediately after this meeting, AMMA announced its decision to reinstate Dileep, claiming that due procedures had not been followed for his expulsion.

The decision understandably has been met with outrage from most people who heard about it, because for one, the investigation, in this case, is still ongoing, and the facts that held when AMMA expelled Dileep in July 2017 still hold true. Did no one at the AMMA think this through?

The WCC took a strong stance on the issue by strongly criticising AMMA’s decision with a statement that bluntly questions them. The statement included questions such as – “Don’t you feel there is an anomaly in taking back a rape accused to the association even before the investigation is over?” and “Isn’t this decision to reinstate Dileep into the association of which the survivor is still a part of, insulting her?” Although some members of the WCC are part of the AMMA, they have never shied away from expressing their displeasure with the misogyny so intricately woven into the industry.

On June 28, four WCC members – Rima Kallingal, Remya Nembeesan, filmmaker Geetu Mohandas and the assault survivor, all resigned from AMMA. The survivor’s statement read, “I am resigning not just because the accused actor has been taken back into AMMA. Even before, this actor has scuttled many of my acting opportunities. When I complained against this, AMMA had taken no action. Now, when such an unfortunate incident happened in my life, the organisation again tried to protect the accused. I resign from the organisation having understood that there is no purpose in being part of it.”

Since then, the WCC has sent a letter to AMMA seeking an explanation for their decision to reinstate Dileep. The WCC has shared this letter in a Facebook post. “All members of AMMA had condemned that heinous act of assault on the survivor. All members of AMMA had pledged complete support to the survivor. But this last decision of AMMA directly contradicts all of that. Hence we want to know where AMMA really stands on this issue”.

As of June 28, Dileep has declared that he will not return to AMMA until he has proven his innocence.

It’s interesting to note how polarised the reactions to these events have been.

On Thursday, a group of All India Youth Federation activists burnt an effigy of Malayalam superstar Mohanlal in front of the Kerala Film Chamber of Commerce in Ernakulam. On Friday, the Youth Congress and KSU workers organised a protest march to Mohanlal’s home in Kochi. Social activist Deepa Nisanth refused to share the stage with yesteryear actress, Urmila Unni who was instrumental in the decision to bring Dileep back into AMMA.

Yesterday, 15 WCC members who were never part of the AMMA released a statement explaining why they did not want to join the organisation. The statement includes eight reasons, which include, “The way AMMA approached the issue of sexual assault of one of our colleagues, shows that their decisions cannot be trusted”, and “The silence that the organisation (AMMA) generally maintains towards the founding members of WCC, and the issues they raise, are precarious and irresponsible. There is no other option but to reject an organisation which is not capable of a healthy and ideological debate.”

Meanwhile, support has been pouring in for the WCC and their cause from several corners. A statement released by 146 women film practitioners from all over the country, was posted by film editor Jabeen Merchant on Facebook today. It said, “We admired and supported the Women in Cinema Collective that was formed by women film artistes in Kerala in the aftermath of the abduction and molestation of a colleague, a top star in the industry. We applaud the WCC members who have walked out of AMMA to protest the chairman’s invitation to reinstate the accused. We pledge our continued support to the Women in Cinema Collective who are blazing a trail to battle sexism in the film industry.”

The Kannada film industry has also condemned the decision to reinstate Dileep, with a statement signed by 50 actors, filmmakers and writers of the Kannada Film Industry (KFI) and the Film Industry for Rights & Equality (FIRE). The statement declares that, “We of KFI and FIRE ask that AMMA immediately revoke its decision to reinstate Mr Dileep until all charges are cleared and uphold the moral compasses that our film industries at their best possess.”

Finally, breaking his silence and clarifying AMMA’s decision, Mohanlal reacted to the flood of accusations coming the organisation’s way yesterday. He said that branding the organisation as anti-women was “inhuman” and that, “even before knowing what the truth was, many whom we respect, came out opposing us.” 

Branding AMMA as “anti-women” though, is the most obvious conclusion one can draw from this series of events. AMMA has not been known to respect women, or the WCC. It even went out of its way to prove this through a mocking skit that took obvious potshots at the WCC, in a cultural programme called AMMA Mazhavillu that AMMA conducted on May 19 and 20, which was aired on the Malayalam television channel Mazhavil Manorama to incredibly high viewer ratings. The skit featured six Malayalam actresses who formed a “Whatsapp Sthree Shakthikaranam” (WSS) for women’s empowerment and was clearly mocking the WCC.

It’s hard to hope that the wave of criticism engulfing the AMMA can instantly change their unapologetically misogynistic outlook, when members at the top such as actor-turned-politician, MLA KB Ganesh Kumar, one of the organisation’s Vice Presidents (who was accused by his ex-wife Yamini of domestic violence), view the WCC actors who resigned as “habitual troublemakers who have a grudge against the association”. Yet, the overwhelming support for the survivor and the WCC has certainly pressurised fans and people in the industry to question the patriarchal structure of the body and by extension, the Malayalam film industry.

Aashika Ravi writes for The Ladies Finger (TLF), a leading online women’s magazine. Visit the website here.