ON THE EVENING of 19 February 2017, some of the biggest celebrities in Malayalam cinema gathered at the Durbar Hall grounds in Kochi. The property is commonly used to host cultural events, including film promotions and award nights, but on this day, the meeting was about something far grimmer. It had been called to protest an incident that had shocked the Kerala film fraternity, and revealed some of its deepest fault lines. Among those present were high-profile directors such as Kamal and Lal, and the actors Mammootty, Dileep and Manju Warrier.
“It is with a lot of sadness and even more anger that we have come together here,” Warrier began, when it was her turn to speak. Visibly shaken, she continued, “I don’t think it’s possible to express through words what I feel at the moment.” Two days earlier, her friend, a prominent woman actor, had been waylaid and abducted on the national highway from Thrissur to Kochi. Seven men sexually assaulted her for nearly two hours in a moving vehicle. The assault, which included oral rape, according to details reproduced later in a bail petition for one of the accused, was reportedly recorded on video. In it, the men can allegedly be heard asking the abducted woman to cooperate so that she is clearly identifiable in the video. Presumably, it was meant to later be used for blackmail and intimidation. However, after the horrifying ordeal was over, the assault victim lodged a case at the Nedumbassery police station in Ernakulam, got herself physically examined at a government medical college and appeared before a judicial magistrate and recorded her statement in private.
“There is a criminal conspiracy behind this,” Warrier continued. “Whoever is behind this criminal conspiracy should be brought to light, and we all need to show our support.” Her short speech made a significant impact—the media quickly picked up her assertion that this was not a spontaneous attack, but a carefully planned crime. Investigators, too, probed the crime as one of conspiracy.