As protests erupt from various quarters against AMMA (Association Of Malayalam Movie Actors) and its decision to reinstate Malayalam actor Dileep, a few old interviews (television and print) of late actor Thilakan, where he scathingly criticises AMMA and its leadership, have gone viral. In the interviews, an enraged Thilakan condemns the film unions for denying several artistes their means of livelihood, and alleges that some ‘superstars’ and filmmakers made sure that his film career was finished abruptly.
Thilakan, a veteran artiste who has done exemplary work in over 200 films in a career spanning 40 years, was subjected to an unfair and unofficial ban by AMMA and FEFKA (Film Employees Federation Of Kerala) in 2010. He was removed from the cast of Christian Brothers, a multi-starrer directed by Joshy, on the insistence of FEFKA for acting in Yakshiyum Njanum, a Vinayan film, an unofficially banned member of the federation. When the actor protested and brought the issue to public notice, he was served a showcause notice by AMMA.
In an interview with Asianet News, Thilakan lashes out at AMMA and a certain superstar who controlled the film industry like a mafia don. “Mind you, I respect AMMA. My issues are with some members of its executive board who have been ruling over the organisation like terrorists,” he begins, and goes on to narrate incidents that led to his exclusion from the cast of Christian Brothers, a big budget project for which was even given an advance pay check. The producer of the film, Maha Subair, had confessed to Thilakan that some members of FEFKA had arm-twisted him into replacing the thespian. “A superstar in Malayalam cinema issued a decree that no one should hire artistes like Mala Aravindan, Captain Raju and myself. He said it was his “prestige issue”. See how he confined the entire Malayalam cinema into himself,” Thilakan says in the interview. The Asianet News clip, which was uploaded by a user on Facebook on Thursday, has been shared over 26000 times already.
Rumours are rife that the ‘superstar’ Thilakan refers to in the interview was at loggerheads with Vinayan over a movie deal. Allegedly, this superstar used his power to influence film unions and stop artistes and technicians from cooperating in Vinayan’s projects. In 2017, the Competition Commission of India (CCI) set up by the central government in 2007 to eliminate unfair practices, asked AMMA, FEFKA and two of their subsidiary organisations to pay a fine to the tune of Rs 11.25 lakh to Vinayan for unfairly banning him from making films.
Thilakan was one of the few voices of dissent in the Malayalam cinema industry. Many a time, he had alleged that he was denied work opportunities by the members of AMMA and MACTA for speaking out against the leadership. Post 2010, work for the actor reduced to a trickle, until his death on September 24, 2012.
Shammi Thilakan, son of the veteran actor, said on Friday that his father’s name wasn’t included even in the souvenir of AMMA, which features the names of deceased artistes of Malayalam cinema. On Wednesday, June 28, Thilakan’s daughter, Sonia, released to the media a letter written by her father years ago, recounting how the organisation and its members harassed him emotionally and professionally. Thilakan had entrusted the letter, marked to Mohanlal who was then the general secretary of AMMA, to his family before his death.
“AMMA remained silent when some producers, despite signing me on, dropped me from their projects, yielding to threats issued by some parties,” he alleges in the letter. He also mentions how actor-politician KB Ganesh Kumar, who has always been a major force inside AMMA, threatened him on phone. “AMMA leaders knew of it, yet they turned a blind eye,” he writes.
When filmmaker Ranjith wanted to cast Thilakan in Indian Rupee (2011), several directors advised the former against it, says Sonia, who adds that it was the physical and emotional strain caused by these issues that led to his early demise.
In an interview to Rediff from 2012, he talked about how superstars in the Malayalam film industry made sure that he wasn’t hired by anyone. “They (superstars) have tried to their best to keep me away from their films. Joining them were some upcoming stars as well. They have tried everything in the book, mental trauma, verbal assaults and character assassination. I have kept quiet for so long, but there is a limit no one should cross.”
“For an artiste, movies are not just a means of livelihood. Cinema is a form of art. A society that doesn’t respect art or produce good art will never find a peaceful existence,” says an overwhelmed Thilakan in the Asianet News interview. It is as though his prophetic words have come back to haunt AMMA and the Malayalam film industry.