Malayalam cinema fans describe actor Dileep as “Janapriya Nayakan” – hero of the masses. Yet this “Janapriya Nayakan” is behind bars today over allegedly conspiring to abduct and sexually assault a Malayalam actor.
Dileep cried uncontrollably and collapsed during questioning, reports the Malayalam Manorama daily. The Chief Minister’s office confirmed the arrest. Dileep said in his defence, “I am innocent and I will prove my innocence. I was trapped.”
Dileep is one of the leading lights of Malayalam cinema, alongside Mohanlal and Mammootty. The 48-year-old actor started out as a mimicry artist and has several hits to his name, including Maya Mohini, Kochi Rajavu, King Liar and Two Countries. His latest film Ramleela is scheduled for a July 21 release.
The police are also interrogating Dileep’s brother Anoop and his friend and film director Nadirshah. The actor has reportedly been expelled from his membership of the Kerala Film Producers Association. At the end of the emergency executive meeting called by the Association of Malayalam Movie Artists (AMMA) on Tuesday morning, it was decided that Dileep will be expelled from the organisation as well.
According to the Mathrubhumi newspaper, Dileep had a grudge against the assault victim, who he claims instigated his former wife, the actor Manju Warrier, against him. Dileep and Warrier were divorced in 2015, and Warrier, who had given up her career after she married Dileep, started acting again. Her recent credits include How Old Are You, and she has been cast as the poet Kamala Das in an upcoming biopic.
Dileep apparently hatched a plan to teach the assault victim “a lesson” when he filed for divorce, says The Indian Express. He is said to have recruited Sunil Kumar, also known as Pulsar Suni, a driver who worked for many film crews. Malayalam Manorama reports that Dileep offered Kumar a chance to act in films as well paid him Rs 1.5 crore.
Sunil Kumar made two previous attempts to attack and assault the actor, once in Thrissur and again in Goa. The assault finally took place on February 17, 2017. The 30-year-old actor was abducted and sexually assaulted late at night while travelling back from a film shoot near Kochi International Airport. She filed a police complaint and identified one of the men as Sunil Kumar. He was arrested along with six other men.
The investigation implicated Dileep after a jail inmate tipped off the police that he had overheard conversations between Sunil Kumar and Dileep’s brother, Anoop, reports The Indian Express. A letter from Sunil Kumar to Dileep containing a demand for money was also allegedly found, and a photograph showing Sunil in Thrissur on the sets of Dileep’s film Georgeettan’s Pooram surfaced. These findings belied Dileep’s claims that he didn’t know Sunil Kumar.
Dileep’s arrest has brought into focus the role of the Association of Malayalam Movie Artists. Dileep is the treasurer of AMMA, and the organisation has refused to comment on the issue. After its general body meeting on June 29, AMMA’s vice-president, KB Ganesh Kumar, told the media, “We are standing firmly behind the attacked actress and Dileep,” said Kumar. “We will not allow anyone to victimise Dileep.” Actor and Member of Parliament Innocent even declared, “It is not like the yesteryears. The situation today is such that if there is any bad behaviour towards any women, the media will know immediately. But if the woman is bad, maybe they will go to bed.”
According to a recent Mathrubhumi report, Dileep will be suspended from AMMA. A meeting is being held at the residence of leading Malayalam actor Mammooty, who is the general secretary of AMMA and has offered no comment on the issue thus far.
The recently formed Women in Cinema Collective has come out strongly in support of the assaulted actor. Bina Paul, vice chairperson of the Kerala Chalachitra Academy and a WCC member said, “It’s a sad day for Malayalam cinema, but we stand by the actress and will continue to support her.”