Film critic CS Venkiteswaran on Tuesday resigned from the general council of the Kerala Chalachitra Academy to protest the decision to invite actor Mohanlal as chief guest at this year’s Kerala State Film Awards ceremony.
The Academy is an autonomous body under the state’s department of cultural affairs and organises the prestigious annual awards. Venkiteswaran told Scroll.in that the general council had appealed to the state government many times not to make Mohanlal the chief guest, as it would be a “very insensitive gesture.” The Malayalam superstar is the chairman of the Association of Malayalam Movie Artists, which has been under fire for moving to reinstate actor Dileep, who had been ousted from the guild last July after his arrest in a sexual assault case. Dileep, who has been accused of planning the abduction and sexual assault of a Malayalam actress, turned down the invitation saying he wants to establish his innocence. AMMA’s stance met with criticism from several quarters, including film industry members, activists and academics.
“In the general council, we had taken the decision to not convert the award ceremony into a star night,” Venkiteswaran said. “When we heard that there is a plan to invite Mohanlal as chief guest, we also protested vehemently against it saying it would be a very insensitive gesture and the academy should desist from it, and if he is invited, we will be boycotting it. We said this in the context of AMMA, the organisation which he heads deciding to reinstate Dileep in the organisation.”
However, the state showed no indication of reconsidering its decision. “Then we issued a statement against inviting any star for the award ceremony – this statement didn’t mention Mohanlal but appealed to the government to make it a simple function where the awardees will be the super stars,” Venkiteswaran explained. “The signatories included K Sachidanandan, NS Madhavan, Sunil P Elayidam, many filmmakers, technicians, writers and critics including six general council members.”
When the state government persisted with its decision, Venkiteswaran felt there was no point continuing in the academy, he said. “Hence the resignation,” he added. “I think inviting Mohanlal as chief guest at this moment will send very wrong signals and this is a time when we should firmly stand for women’s rights and freedom within the film industry.”
The actor has reportedly accepted the state government’s invitation to be chief guest at the ceremony, which will be held on August 8.
Earlier, members of the film industry too had protested the decision to invite a celebrity chief guest – as per tradition, the chief minister gives out the awards. On July 18, filmmaker Biju Damodaran, who was on the jury for this year’s awards, said he would boycott the ceremony if Mohanlal was made chief guest. Though he did not name the superstar, he referred to the controversy over AMMA.
On July 23, more than 100 activists and members of the Malayalam film industry wrote to the Kerala chief minister, asking him to reconsider the decision to appoint a chief guest.