Kerala actress assault: Dileep’s controversial rise to power in film industry

A Kerala Police report on Mollywood superstar Dileep, accused of being the mastermind behind the rape of an actress, says the “deep rooted animosity of the actor towards the victim” was the primary motive for the crime.

Police say that Dileep strongly believed it was the actress’ proximity to his first wife, Manju Warrier, which created issues that eventually led to a divorce in 2015.

But did Dileep allegedly resort to revenge on a colleague just because he believed she interfered in his marriage? Or was the attack the latest of many, many instances of violence on people who Dileep thought had crossed him?

Since his arrest, the entire industry’s on-record, off-record stories indicate in the years that he climbed to the top, he triggered many similar controversies but this is the first time he’s been charged for such an incident.

In 2008, Dileep refused to act in director Thulasidas’ film Kuttanadan Express even after receiving Rs 40 lakh as advance. The Malayalam Cine Technicians Association Federation (MACTA), then headed by leading director Vinayan, intervened and asked Dileep to sort out the issue with the director in three months.

Dileep didn’t budge and his actions apparently led to the split of the MACTA into two bodies, forming the now powerful Film Employees Federation of Kerala (FEFKA). From 2008, Vinayan was suddenly ostracised from the industry, and no technician would cooperate with him. So was Thulasidas’ fate.

“I have always said that when it comes to vengeance, Dileep is at a different level. His resolve to get back at people who have antagonised him is incomparable. Show me one person in the industry who has survived after falling out with him. Wrecking careers is like having a cup of tea for him,’’ Vinayan, who had been fighting against what he says is an organised mafia (the industry) under Dileep, told HT.

Vinayan continued to make movies with technical help from Tamil and Telugu film industries.

The late actor Thilakan, an 11-time state and a national award winner, was the next in line, allegedly because he acted in Yakshiyum Njanum (2009), directed by Vinayan. The actor had to finally go back to theatre, which paid poorly, to make ends meet towards the end of his career.

“I have nothing against AMMA or FEFKA, but those sitting at the top are a mafia that is engaged in organised crime. Otherwise, who are they to destroy the life of an artist? Who are they to stop others from giving me work? This is worse than killing me,’’ Thilakan had said to Asianet in 2011.

Vinayan says Dileep’s modus operandi was simple but far-reaching. One phone call from the actor or his close associate was allegedly enough for a director not to cast an actor or for an actor not to sign a film.

“From the moment you are in his bad books, attempts to derail your career start. He would coax and intimidate people to submission but leave no room for complaint. People have no way but agree. What do you think happened to the actress? Before she was physically attacked she was wiped out of the industry for three years with no films. It’s not as if nobody knows who was behind it,’’ Vinayan adds.

From a mimicry artist in the late 80s to an assistant director in the 90s, Dileep’s first break in came in 1995 with Manathe Kottaram directed by a little-known Sunil, who gave him the screen name ‘Dileep’.

Mollywood was just breaking away from star-based films to small-time slapstick comedies. And in a very short time, Dileep was a successful protagonist, rising to become a favourite among the middle class in Kerala.

While Sallappam in 1996 was his big break, Meesa Madhavan, 2002’s highest grosser and Thilakam (2003) cemented him as the third super star after Mammootty and Mohanlal.

Now in the big league, Dileep had a unique quality that the other two lacked, an amazing business acumen with which he took control of the industry. Whatever money Dileep made he pumped it back, as producer and distributor, while others invested elsewhere. Very soon, Dileep was no longer just an actor.

He started by forming FEFKA and allegedly filling the brass with his people. Later, taking control of AMMA became much easier. He roped in Mammootty and Mohanlal, and produced an all-star flick Twenty:20 (2008) whose returns were pumped into AMMA as it’s own funds. Many say it was Dileep’s way of taking total control.

In January 2017, amid a fight between the producers and exhibitors over revenue share in box office collections, Dileep broke the existing Kerala Film Exhibitors Federation (KFEF) to form the new Film Exhibitors United Organisation of Kerala (FEUOK), with him as the president. He was just getting started.

“Dileep will smile his way and before you realise, he would have changed the power structure to suit him. That’s what he did inside all the unions in the industry. Both Mammootty and Mohanlal could do nothing but play second fiddle,’’ says film producer and exhibitor, Liberty Basheer, to HT.

Dileep was also planning to expand his chain of multiplexes (D-Cinemaas) in the next few months across Kerala to expand his control over movie releases.

Dileep quickly rose through the ranks but many say he set aside anyone who came in his way.

Four months after Vinayan won his long battle against AMMA and FEFKA in March 2017 when the Competition Commission of India (CCI) slapped a fine on both unions for unofficially restricting Vinayan’s right to work, his arch rival is behind bars.

Ali Akbar, an award-winning director recounts how one phone call changed his career forever.

“Just after I signed Thilakan, I get a call from AMMA saying if you put Thilakan in, your film will not see the light of the day. I went ahead with it. A few days after its release in 2010, I was sanctioned by AMMA and FEFKA and that was it. Dileep had ensured this,’’ Akbar tells HT.

Akbar alleges Dileep brought in a new business model that broke the back of small-time producers and directors. The model was simple — even before a single shot is taken, the movie’s satellite and distribution rights are fixed and in most cases, the money would be paid off by the channels and theatre owners in advance.

This meant that at one point of time, only films of Mammootty, Mohanlal and Dileep had takers. It also meant that scripts were written to suit the actors. Many directors who didn’t go with it quit, while producers shut shop because they were unable to afford any of the three.

While it was a win-win situation for the superstars, Mammootty and Mohanlal signed only a few movies in a year, and Dileep kept increasing his.

“It was when Malayalam cinema was facing a huge quality crisis. Movies were reduced to a celebration of fans associations. There was never a time when directors were neglected and forced to make movies that suited the whims and fancies of a few. But I don’t blame Dileep alone. The silence of the other two big stars was equally responsible,’’ says noted film critic VK Joseph.

Alleppey Ashraf, a popular mimicry artiste and a director, has seen Dileep’s climb to the top and describes him as a “cruel joker” and “smiling assassin”. Ashraf recounts how actor-turned-producer Dinesh Panicker had a cheque bounce case slapped against him by Dileep in 2001 allegedly because the producer of the movie Udayapuram Sulthan didn’t pay the pending Rs 1.5 lakh to Dileep. Ashraf says such instances of producers falling short of money were frequent in such a small industry but a stern stand from an actor was new.

“Such things were unheard of in the industry where actors had some compassion for the people who worked with them. Dileep is the opposite and that is why I strongly feel he is involved in this crime. He is capable of doing this and more,’’ Ashraf tells HT.

The Enforcement Directorate, last week, started investigating into Dileep’s land deals. Dileep is reported to own around 37 pieces of land in and around Kochi, amounting to crores.

But what has startled many are reports that now allegedly connect Dileep to famous actor, Kalabhavan Mani, who died last year. Mani had died in a hospital in mysterious circumstances after partying in his Chalakudy home on March 6, 2016. After the Kerala HC directed the CBI to take over the probe in April, the CBI finally began one in May 2017.

“I got a tip over phone about a real estate deal that involved both the actors. But I cannot verify the information independently. So I have informed the matter to the CBI’s investigating officer,’’ director Baiju Kottarakara told media after he met a CBI officer at their Kochi office on July 12th. The CBI has reportedly recorded his statement.

“We are not alleging anything at this point. But there were some talks that my brother [Mani] and Dileep had some real estate deals which may not have gone in the right direction. We do have a doubt that land mafia could have been behind my brother’s death. So we have told the CBI a few things,’’ RLV Ramakrishan, Kalabhavan Mani’s brother says.

D-Cinemaas, originally named DM-Cinemaas, started out initially as a joint venture between the actors, before a difference of opinion forced the two to call their collaboration off and Dileep took over. Meanwhile, the state government has also launched a probe to check the validity of the land title deed of the plot of D-Cinemaas as there is an allegation that it’s on encroached land.