The Malayalam film industry has had its share of controversies over the years but what happened on Monday would rank as one of its biggest ever.
Leading actor Dileep, who ranks only behind Kerala’s two “superstars” Mohanlal and Mammootty in terms of popularity and box-office draw, was arrested in Kochi for his alleged role in the conspiracy behind the abduction and assault of a well-known actress in February.
The 48-year-old, who has acted in over 130 films in a career spanning two decades, was summoned by a special police team led by IGP Dinendra Kashyap this morning. Following interrogation, which lasted through the day, his arrest was recorded under the charge of conspiracy.
Police had earlier questioned Dileep’s brother Anoop, manager Appunni, and his close friend and business associate Nadirshah, who is also a film director.
“Dileep was arrested based on evidence collected by the probe team. The investigation is still on and more arrests cannot be ruled out,’’ said Kerala DGP Loknath Behera.
According to police sources, investigations have revealed that Dileep allegedly “gave the supari” to attack the actress due to “personal enmity”.
The victim was once close to Dileep’s family, at a time when he was married to popular actress Manju Warrier. But this relationship is believed to have soured after Dileep and Warrier formalised a mutual separation in 2015, citing irrevocable differences. Dileep is now married to another popular actress Kavya Madhavan.
Police sources said Dileep believed that the victim played a role in creating discord in his marital life with Warrier. And, according to them, the conspiracy to target the actress was allegedly hatched in 2013, the year Dileep filed a divorce petition in a family court.
Police said that Dileep’s arrest was based on details provided by the key accused in the case, Sunil Kumar alias Pulsar Suni, a driver linked to various film crew in the Malayalam industry. On February 17, Kumar allegedly intercepted the car in which the actress was travelling in Kochi, assaulted her inside the vehicle for around two hours and recorded visuals of the act on a mobile phone.
Later, police sources said, call records revealed links between Kumar, Nadirshah and Appunni. Kumar is also believed to have contacted Appunni over phone from jail, with Dileep later claiming that he was being blackmailed for Rs 1.5 crore by the accused.
Following the alleged assault, police arrested and chargesheeted a seven-member gang, led by Kumar, on charges of abduction, rape and attempted blackmail. But they continued the probe, with the actress claiming that Kumar had revealed that the abduction was a “supari” and asked her to “cooperate”. The gang had made a few aborted attempts to assault the actress earlier, sources claimed.
At the time, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan had ruled out a conspiracy behind the attack, and the involvement of film professionals.
But last month, investigations took a new turn when a fellow inmate of Kumar at the special jail in Kochi, Jinson, claimed that the accused had told him about the conspiracy. Jinson also claimed that he had heard Kumar making calls to Appunni, demanding financial help. Taking the probe closer to Dileep, a letter purportedly written by Kumar to the actor, demanding money, reached TV channels.
Dileep, who began his career as a mimicry artiste before graduating to leading roles with comic shades, has consistently maintained his innocence, even offering to undergo a lie-detector test.
But on June 28, he and Nadirshah were questioned by police for 13 hours in Kochi, raising the possibility for the first time that he may be arrested. Last week, police questioned Kumar again which, sources said, helped the probe team ascertain the actor’s role in the conspiracy.
Sources said Kumar felt “abandoned” by Dileep, and wanted to submit a detailed statement in court “to expose everything”. “It was to avoid further embarrassment that police arrested Dileep,” said sources.