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Kerala split wide open over release of movie of actor held in sex crime case

LiveMint logoLiveMint 01-10-2017 Nidheesh M.K.

Bengaluru: While much of India enjoyed Ramlila performances over the weekend, a different battle of good-versus-evil played out in the movie halls of Kerala. Malayalis are debating whether or not to watch Ramaleela, a movie that released across the state’s cinema halls on Thursday.

Dileep, who portrays the movie’s protagonist Ramanunni, is a top actor and businessman, now in jail pending trial over charges that he plotted the kidnap and sexually assault a leading female actor in February. This is Dileep’s first movie to hit the theatres since his arrest in July. Many people see watching Ramaleela or not as taking a stand on sex crimes.

In the week before its release, several filmmakers and writers called for boycotting the movie. Film critic G.P. Ramachandran even asked the public in a Facebook post to destroy theatres screening the movie; he later apologized, saying it was an emotional outburst.

Dileep has been denied bail four times and there was sloganeering when he was taken out of jail for court appearances in July.

His supporters have sharply countered calls of boycott. Arun Gopy, the debut director of the movie, compared the boycott calls to beef ban. Lal Jose, a noted filmmaker posted an appeal on Facebook hours before the release for the public to watch the movie, and saying he is “With him”. Later, he claimed good box office collections, and said Dileep has won “in the people’s court.”

“I’ve not seen such a desperate campaign around a movie in recent times,” said Neelima Menon, movie critic and editor of Fullpicture.com, a website on Malayalam movies. “It is no more about the movie, it is an act of showing support, either for the victim or for the accused. The society is asked to take a side,” she said.

Neelima has chosen not to review the movie. “As a woman, my conscience is not allowing me to go for it. It’s a message to all men,” she said.

“In Kerala, theatres have become courtrooms,” writer Anees Salim posted on Facebook on Thursday.

Following his arrest, Dileep, also an influential figure in the local movie industry, was unseated from almost all major film associations. The incident also sparked the birth of ‘Women in Cinema Collective (WCC)’, which has vowed to end misogyny in movies. #WithHer constantly trends on social media to show solidarity with the victim.

However, Dileep’s large fan base and movie professionals close to him have pushed back, who see him as a scapegoat of a hyper-active media.

State Women’s Commission chairman M.C. Josephine received human excreta in her mail this month, after she flagged people making insulting comments against the female actor. Fifteen out of the 16 journalists resigned from Malayalam news portal South Live, after the editor of the portal, Sebastian Paul, published an article favouring Dileep’s bail plea.

Kerala’s sex ratio, literacy and infant mortality rates are the envy of several states; however, a total of 16,960 cases of crime against women and children, including 2,568 rapes, were reported in the last one year in the state, according to a Press Trust of India story citing provisional police estimates in February.

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