Kerala actress assault: Blow-by-blow account of Dileep’s fall from superstardom
Kerala has spent the last few months being shaken up by new developments in the case of the popular Malayalam actor who was abducted and sexually assaulted in a car by four men in Kochi on February 17, 2017. But nothing has been more shocking than the arrest that came on July 10. On Monday, Malayalam superstar Dileep was arrested on conspiracy charges in the case. The police believe that Dileep paid men to abduct and assault the actor, and take videos of the assault as proof, in order to exact revenge upon her and ‘teach her a lesson’. It feels like the stuff of movies, not real-life, and indeed, no film industry in India has seen a case quite like this.
While the definitive nature of arrest was unexpected, Dileep’s name featured immediately on the grapevine as soon as the assault made news. As weeks went by, it became clearer that this wasn’t just the product of an over-enthusiastic rumour mill, but a dark conspiracy.
Rumours linking Dileep to the assault began on the same evening of February 17. Back then, media organisations, in their haste to break the ‘juicy’ bits, didn’t wait for legitimate details of the sexual assault, and ran reports naming the actor, and even her photograph. When it came to light that she had been sexually assaulted, most media houses backtracked and began referring to her as “a popular Malayalam actor”. But by then, the damage was done, and her identity became common knowledge.
It was also common knowledge that the survivor and Dileep had been bitter enemies for years. The rumour mill supplied various explanations of their falling out. Some said it was due to disagreements over real estate dealings. Others believed it stemmed from the survivor’s support of Dileep’s ex-wife, actor Manju Warrier, when they divorced. Some took that theory even further, and said the survivor earned Dileep’s enmity when she tipped Manju Warrier off about his affair with his current wife, actor Kavya Madhavan. It was widely known that Dileep - who was well-connected politically and within the film industry, and was the leader of numerous film actors’, producers’ and distributors’ associations -- had blacklisted her from working in the industry, forcing her to work exclusively in Tamil and Telugu movies.
Initially, it was these rumours of Dileep’s grudge-loving personality that linked him to the case. Everyone from the chief minister of Kerala, Pinarayi Vijayan to Dileep himself discredited the rumours. In a barely veiled reference to Dileep, the Vijayan said in February that the media “should not go after those who usually do not commit such crimes”. Dileep himself took to social media to berate the media for “targeting him” and insinuating that he was involved in the “heinous crime”. He also filed a police complaint over social media posts linking him to the case.
The police, meanwhile, on February 23, arrested the main accused, ‘Pulsar’ Suni (Sunil Kumar), and his accomplice, from a local court complex in Ernakulam. They had jumped over the court complex wall, disguised as lawyers, and were trying to enter the witness stand, apparently to surrender, rather than be arrested. Despite these efforts, police forced their way into the court and arrested them. Two other accomplices of Pulsar Suni were soon arrested.
Pulsar Suni initially told the police that he had masterminded the crime himself, with the intent of assaulting the actor, recording visuals, and blackmailing her for cash later. He told police that there was no conspiracy involved. He changed his story in jail, saying he committed the crime at the behest of movie industry leaders. He later retracted this statement too, and maintained that there was no conspiracy. For a while, all was quiet.
Reports of a letter dated April 12, written on Pulsar Suni’s behalf by a friend, to Dileep blew the case wide open. In the letter, Pulsar Suni reveals he called Nadirsha because he did not want to contact Dileep and put him in jeopardy. He says that he will call Nadirsha in a few days regarding some money, and sweetly gives Dileep five months to hand over another promised sum of money. He wrote that if Dileep doesn’t want him to call Nadirsha, he should send Rs 300 through a money order to his jail number. That would be their code. The letter also mentions that Pulsar Suni visited a “shop in Kakkanad”, a detail which became significant soon enough.
This letter became a tangible link between Pulsar Suni and Dileep. It also implicated Nadirsha, and the reference to a shop brought Dileep’s wife, Kavya Madhavan, into the fray.
Soon after this letter began making the rounds, on the June 24, it was reported that Dileep had lodged a complaint with the police that he was being blackmailed for Rs 1.5 crore by a co-prisoner of Pulsar Suni’s named Vishnu. The complaint alleged that Vishnu called Nadirsha asking for money in exchange for not bringing Dileep’s name into the case. Police arrested Vishnu and one Sanal Kumar in relation to this complaint.
Earlier this month there were reports that Pulsar Suni called Dileep’s friend, director Nadirsha, and Dileep’s manager, Appunni, three times from the landline in Kakkanad District Jail. One of these calls was eight minutes long. Records indicated that Nadirsha and Appuni called back on this number.
In the midst of all this, Dileep found time to announce on television that the assault survivor and Pulsar Suni were close friends, had spent time together in Goa, and that the assault should serve as a lesson about choosing friends carefully. He also insisted that he had no links to criminal elements like Pulsar Suni. Soon after, the assault survivor announced her intention to sue “an actor”, understood to be Dileep, who had made objectionable remarks against her.
On the June 28, police took in Dileep and Nadirsha for a 13-hour interrogation. To give you a sense of how powerful Dileep (owner of businesses, theatres and a restaurant, and with alleged links to various Kerala MLAs) and his friend Nadirsha are in Kerala, it was also reported that Nadirsha had been ‘trained’ by an additional director general of police (ADGP) at a place near Vytilla before being questioned. (According to Dailyhunt, Nadirsha said the cop visited him because it was Eid.)
At this point Dileep said he had been called in to record his statement over the blackmail complaint he had filed against Pulsar Suni’s friends, but reports indicated that he had been questioned about the conspiracy charges in the case of the actor’s assault. Dileep was asked about his association with Pulsar Suni, whom he repeatedly denied knowing or meeting. He was also asked about Laksyah, the boutique and online shopping website owned by his wife, Kavya Madhavan, in Kakkanad. It’s this boutique that police believe Pulsar Suni referred to in his letter, which he visited after the assault. On June 30, police searched this shop in a three-hour raid, and CCTV footage revealed Pulsar Suni had indeed visited it.
On June 2, a new piece of evidence refuting Dileep’s assertion that he had never met Pulsar Suni surfaced: A fan’s selfie of Dileep showing Pulsar Suni in the background. This picture was taken at Kinattinkal Academy in Thrissur, during the shooting of Dileep’s film Georgettan’s Pooram (also mentioned in Suni’s letter).
Currently, these are the pieces of evidence on which the case against Dileep hangs: the calls made by Suni to Nadirsha and his manager Appuni (currently absconding), the contradictions in Dileep’s statements to the police where he denied knowing Pulsar Suni, and photographs that pin Pulsar Suni and Dileep to the same location despite Dileep’s contrary statements.
In the days following these developments, it became clear that the ‘big shark’ Pulsar Suni’s associate mentioned to the media would soon be trapped. On July 10, Dileep was arrested by police on conspiracy charges. People immediately took to the streets to vandalise his businesses, and when he was brought to Aluva sub-jail, inmates welcomed him with cheers of ‘Welcome to Central Jail’, the name of one of his movies.
Dileep is pleading not guilty, and has been remanded to 14 days in police custody.
Jayanthi KV, an advocate in Thiruvananthapuram, says the charges against Dileep are yet to be framed, and he’s currently been taken in for further investigation. Soon enough, it will be clearer what sections of the IPC he’s to be charged under. If he is ultimately found guilty of abetment, she says, he will be given the same sentence as those accused of physically committing the abduction and sexual assault.
Dileep’s arrest has sent shockwaves through the Malayalam film industry. The Association of Malayalam Movie Artistes, of which Dileep had been treasurer until the day after his arrest, had earlier vouched for Dileep’s innocence and said they’d stand by him. The day after his arrest, AMMA convened an emergency meeting at superstar Mammootty’s house (the general secretary) and Dileep was unceremoniously chucked out. Members of AMMA who had defended Dileep earlier made shame-faced noises about how shocked they were.
Dileep’s fall from prodigal son status also allowed for a lot of pent-up grief to spill, and the immediacy with which it came to light gives you an idea of how dark Dileep’s dealings were. Soon after his arrest, several industry insiders like director Vinayan, made statements on Dileep’s clout in the industry, his vindictiveness towards his enemies, and his habit of blacklisting them.
Some of the new allegations against Dileep paint an even weirder picture. Rafeeque Seelat, a screenwriter, said he once caught Dileep hanging upside down from a hotel terrace in Kochi while another man held his legs, so that he could peep into the room of a woman who was changing. He says Dileep found out Rafeeque saw this, and therefore, tried to end his career. Malayalam newspapers also report that Dileep had once paid Pulsar Suni to take nude photographs of another female actor he had issues with.
The public opinion towards Dileep after the arrest is largely one of rage, although his fans are still keeping their heads up. While he does have a huge fan base in Kerala (he’s called the ‘People’s Actor’), it isn’t the same massive support that say, Salman Khan received when he was embroiled in legal battles, although a few banners and posters foretelling Dileep’s comeback have cropped up in Kerala already. Many people have been flocking to courts and jails where he’s being produced, to catcall and wave black flags at him. On the other hand, disgraced former cricketer and failed BJP politician S Sreesanth has made a statement that seems vaguely supportive of Dileep, saying that we shouldn’t crucify Dileep until he’s proven guilty in court.
As many people within the industry are saying, these events have scarred the whole Malayalam film industry. No other film industry has seen the clear nailing of a crime so vindictive, and the specifics of this case also reveal how closely the movie industry and underworld criminals work. Dileep’s arrest will also cause a Rs 60 crore loss to the industry, because his upcoming movies will be delayed or not released at all. It’s also likely that the ‘family audience’, who were a large part of his fan base, will no longer want anything to do with him.
Film critic and founder of Mad About Moviez, Sethumadhavan Napan, says the arrest will impact more than just Dileep’s immediate releases. “Dileep played a multi-faceted role in the Malayalam movie industry. He was a producer as well as an actor, owned theatres and was the leader of numerous associations of producers and distributors. All of these have been thrown into disarray. More importantly, this will affect how the whole industry works: now that everyone has seen that an actor as prominent as Dileep can face the consequences of his actions, everyone will be much more careful about how they treat women in the industry.”
(Published in arrangement with GRIST Media)
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