Sunday, April 18, 2010

The rule of the superstars

Director Vinayan, veteran actor Thilakan, as well as others tell about how Mammooty and Mohanlal call the shots in the Malayalam film industry, a power they use unscrupulously

Photo: Mammooty (left) and Mohanlal

By Shevlin Sebastian

One day in 2002, director Vinayan was shooting the film ‘Dada Saheb’ with superstar Mammooty at Ottapallam in Kerala. Numerous action sequences were that day and the crew was tired. Nevertheless, Vinayan decided to shoot a scene at 6 p.m. and asked Mammooty to appear on time.

Everything was ready. But despite repeated reminders by the production controller the superstar did not step out of his hotel room. When Mammooty finally arrived at 9 p.m., an irate Vinayan told him it was pack-up time.

Late at night, Mammooty met Vinayan in his room and said, “Why did you behave like this?”

Vinayan said, “I am a director, and a team captain. You have to understand that my crew and I have been working non-stop from morning. You should have informed me that you would be late. That is why even though you are a senior artiste I gave a small punishment.”

The star smiled and said, “That’s too bad.”

Vinayan says, “Mammooty kept the resentment inside him forever.”

Mammooty and Mohanlal have been the reigning superstars of the Malayalam film industry for the past thirty years. And Vinayan has been their outspoken critic.

“The superstars have a Mafia-like grip on the industry,” he says. “Nothing can happen without their approval. They select the directors, actors, music composers, and the technicians of their films and of other projects, also. And this is where they play favourites”

This has resulted in an abiding resentment against the duo. “But nobody is willing to speak out for fear of damaging their careers,” says Vinayan.

A rare exception is veteran actor Thilakan. In January, he said publicly that a superstar, whom he did not identify, had him thrown out of a film. He said the industry is concentrated in the “hands of a few”. Thilakan’s problems deepened because he had dared to act in a Vinayan film, 'Yakshiyum Njanum'

In March, Thilakan received public support from veteran literary critic, Sukumar Azhikode, who lashed out at the superstars. Mohanlal immediately retorted, “He has no idea about the industry.”

This spat caused a controversy in the state, with calls to the government to intervene. But the chances of the Left Democratic Front government doing something, is remote, as Mammooty is the chairman of the CPI(M)-backed Malayalam Communicated Ltd., which owns Kairali TV.

On April 4, Thilakan was expelled from Association of Malayalam Movie Artistes (AMMA) on grounds of indiscipline.

“AMMA is just a mouthpiece of the superstars,” says Thilakan. “Because I acted in a Vinayan film they turned against me. The executive committee is toothless. They just follow the bidding of Mammooty and Mohanlal.”

And they are rewarded for their servility. “If you look at the cast of the majority of Malayalam films, it has been peopled by the members of the executive committee,” says Thilakan. “Others do not get a chance.”

Vinayan says the superstars have not allowed any new talent to come up. Prithviraj, the son of the late actor Sukumaran, who has been in the industry for the past nine years, is yet to become a star, although he has the talent and the good looks.

“When a Prithviraj film is released the members of the fans association of the
superstars will go to the hall and make such a noise that patrons are unable to enjoy the film,” he says. “The film fails at the box office because of these tactics.”

When Prithviraj starred in one of Vinayan’s films, ‘Meerayude Dukhavum Muthuvinte Swapnavum’ in 2003, the director could not get the film magazines to do an article on the young man.

“I told the editors that for 20 years we have been seeing Mammooty and Mohanlal,” he says. “Why don’t you promote a fresh new face?”

One editor replied, “If I publish a feature on this young man, the superstars will ban my reporters from their sets.”

However, in the earlier years, superstars did not suffer from this sort of insecurity and jealousy. “Prem Nazir, who was a superstar for 30 years, promoted Jayan,” says Vinayan.

The director recalls how Mammooty also received help. There was an established actor called Ratheesh. One day, Vinayan was present at a discussion between director Sreekumaran Thampy and Ratheesh about the film, ‘Munnettam’.

In the movie, Ratheesh had been given a big role, while a smaller one had been set aside for Mammooty. But Ratheesh was pressed for time. “So he said, ‘Thampy Sir, I am extremely busy now. However, there is a big new talent in Malayalam films. His name is Mammooty,” says Vinayan. “If you give him the bigger role and let me do the smaller one, I will be able to find the time to act in the film.’”

Vinayan says, “I cannot imagine Mohanlal or Mammooty doing the same thing. They are so insecure that they just don’t want anybody else to come up.”

Vinayan says that a superstar like Mammooty -- who earns Rs 1.5 crore per film -- can easily pay Rs 25 lakhs so that fans can yell at every show of an upcoming actor for a fortnight at 40 main centers and disturb the audience’s concentration.

On the other hand, the superstars have various methods to ensure that their films do well. “Firstly, there will be no commotion inside the hall,” says producer P.A. Harris. “Secondly, the superstars will ask the members of the fans associations to throng the theatres in which their films are being screened for two weeks, to give the impression that the film is a hit.”

Newspapers and magazines help the duo by providing the maximum publicity for their films. “The television channels do the same thing,” says Vinayan. “In the Thilakan case, except for one or two channels, nobody else elaborated on the controversy between the actor and AMMA, because the superstars have warned them that they will not get access to people from the film industry.”

Another captive group is the theatre owners who tend to give hefty advances to producers of Mammooty and Mohanlal starrers, so that they are able to screen them. So, they have no option but to block large segments of time to show the superstar films. As a result, small producers suffer a lot.

O.V. Prasannan, who produced the campus-based movie, ‘SMS’, says that he was allowed one week in cinema halls, because, following that, a superstar’s film was going to be shown. “So although ‘SMS’ did well, it was removed,” he says. “The chances of a non-superstar film becoming a hit are impossible.”

Prasannan adds that for important festivals and holidays, the superstars book the theatres in advance so that only their films are shown. Theatre owners are unable to say no.

They are also browbeaten in other ways. “Mammooty and Mohanlal will insist that the films of those whom they do not like cannot be released,” says Prasannan.

In such a situation, there is only one option left. You have to be in either Mammooty or Mohanlal’s camp to survive. “Both Vinayan and I have spoken out because we cannot tolerate this sort of dictatorship,” says Thilakan.

The veteran actor of more than 500 films says that frequently he would be appalled on the sets when he would hear the superstars tell the cinematographer where the camera has to be placed and give commands to the directors. “This gross misuse of power by the superstars is terrible,” says Thilakan.

In a bid to fight back, Vinayan set up the Malayalam Cine Technicians Association Federation (MACTA) in 2006. However, soon, a crisis cropped up.

Actor Dileep took an advance of Rs 40 lakh from Ullathil Films to act in a film directed by Thulasi Das. But when one of Das’s films flopped, Dileep asked for a change of director. MACTA opposed this, saying there was a legal agreement, and asked Dileep to pay back the money, within three months, which he refused.

MACTA told Dileep that they would take action against him. That was when AMMA came out in support of the actor. Apart from Dileep, Mammooty and Mohanlal are members of AMMA.

“The two superstars and Dileep joined hands,” says Vinayan. “Mammooty and Mohanlal realised that if this problem was not nipped in the bud, the next attack would be launched on them.”

For example, today, a producer might meet Mammooty and give him a Rs 20 lakh advance to get shooting dates for December, 2010. If tomorrow somebody gives him Rs 50 lakhs, Mammooty will push back the dates of the first producer by two years. “Then the producer will have to run behind the superstar to get new dates,” says Vinayan. “That is what is happening now. There is no professional ethics.”

In 2008, over the issue of Dileep, and other points of contention, MACTA split up. Several prominent directors, led by Sidique, have set up the Film Employees Federation of Kerala. “This is one more organisation which follows the bidding of the superstars,” says Vinayan.

Meanwhile, amidst all this infighting, 90 per cent of the films have flopped this year, as compared to Tamil Nadu where there is a plethora of hits, thanks to new stories, actors, and directors.

“The superstars will not allow such films to be made in Kerala, because the heroes will have to be youngsters,” says Thilakan. “Instead, they want movies to be made in which they can act, and it is usually old wine in new bottles.”

So, clearly, new wine in new bottles is the need of the hour, but who is going to unseat the superstars is the moot question. (Incidentally, Mammooty and Mohanlal, through their representatives, declined to be interviewed for this article).

(The New Indian Express, Chennai)


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Why was this not published in the cochin edition?