Police have launched an overarching investigation into the alleged abduction and molestation of a popular Malayalam filmstar, amid swirling speculation that her rivals hired contract criminals to stage the crime and ruin her career.
The conspiracy theories gained ground after three fugitive suspects, including alleged lynchpin Sunil Kumar alias Pulsar Suni, approached the Kerala high court on Monday for anticipatory bail.
They pleaded innocent and alleged that police were “hounding them” without a reason. The court will hear their bail petition on Tuesday.
The popular actor was allegedly taken hostage on the way from Thrissur to Kochi on Friday and molested for by a seven-member gang. The criminals took pictures and videos to blackmail her before letting her go.
The 30-year-old actor, who had worked in more than 75 movies in several southern languages since debuting as a teenager, was returning home from a film shoot. Her driver, Martin Anthony, and two more men were arrested in the past two days for the crime, but the mastermind and his associates are still at large.
Police suspect the gangsters belonged to the “quotation mafia” — a gang that can be contracted for criminal assignments. A “quotation” gang is the Kerala equivalent of “supari” criminal.
It remains unclear as to who hired the gang, but allegations are flying that the motive was to harm the actor’s successful career.
Fellow actor Manju Warrier, addressing a protest meet organised by Malayalam movie artistes on Sunday, hinted as much about the conspiracy angle.
BJP leader V Muralidharan too sniffed a conspiracy and sought a probe into the abducted actor’s reported tiff with a superstar of the film industry.
“She once said a lobby was working overtime to push her out of the industry. It should be part of the investigation,” he said.
But organisations and people associated with the industry, who have been rallying behind the actor, dismissed the conspiracy theories.
“We never expected such a statement from a senior leader. Police are investigating the case and it is not the time to cast aspersions on somebody,” said Suresh Kumar, president of the Malayalam Cinema Producers’ Association.
The investigation didn’t show any tangible result on Monday, though police have prepared a list of 2,010 known criminals. These people will be picked up for questioning, while the hunt to capture the fugitive suspects will continue simultaneously.
Chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan sought a report on the police action so far after a meeting of the district collectors and top police officers.
The National Commission for Women too got into the act, summoning Kerala Police chief Loknath Behra on Monday.
“It is a shocking incident. We will seek a report from the DGP and review the probe,” said Lalitha Kumaramangalam, the commission’s chairperson.
The incident triggered outrage among the public, film fraternity and political parties.
The CPM and CPI, constituents of the ruling Left Democratic Front (LDF) in the state, had described the assault on the actor as a “one-off incident”. The Opposition and women’s rights groups called the statement insensitive and a mask to hide rising crime against women.
Union minister for women and child development Maneka Gandhi said the Left Front government should be dismissed.
“There is no governance in Kerala. Women and children are at the receiving end. The state is a fit case for President’s rule,” she told a Malayalam news channel in New Delhi.