Star power to the fore in Mollywood

It took veteran actor Thilakan, 74, state and national award winner and Padmasri recipient who has essayed some powerful characters alongside superstars Mammootty and Mohanlal to spill the beans. Thanks to his off-the-cuff revelations, film lovers have learned some sordid truths about the intense backroom manoeuvres that determine the composition of a superstar film and the intense group rivalries in film land.

Early this month, Thilakan disclosed that he was cast in the Mohanlal starrer “Christian Brothers” and then excluded by the producers under the influence of a superstar and the Film Employees Federation of Kerala (FEFKA). The film’s producer Subair too confirmed that FEFKA asked him to exclude Thilakan and though he had given him an advance. He said he had to drop Thilakan “to get on with my film.”

While many thought that Thilakan might have been referring to Mohanlal, he himself clarified later that Mammootty was behind his ouster.

The veteran actor pointed out that FEFKA and the star had a grudge against him for acting in a film by director Vinayan, a common enemy of superstars. Vinayan had formed the Malayalam Cine Technicians’ Association (MACTA) last year after splitting the FEFKA and has criticised superstars for the stagnation of Malayalam cinema.

Prestige issue

Thilakan alleged that Mammootty personally took it up as a ‘prestige issue’ to deny him a role in ‘Christian Brothers.’ He also alleged that several directors had accepted the diktat of the superstar to isolate him and this was a violation of his right to work.

The veteran went on to allege that superstars were controlling the industry and that a mafia was running the Association of Malayalam Movie Artistes. He muddied the waters further by saying that caste too played a major role in the film industry.

“I am sitting at home without work,” he declared. “The actor in me is on the verge of suicide.” Mammootty fans were reported to have threatened Thilakan with dire consequences.

Though Thilakan went overboard with his allegations, industry insiders told Deccan Herald that superstars called the shots in the industry and it was easy for them to enforce an unwritten ban on Thilakan. “No slot is filled without the superstar’s concurrence,” said an up and coming actor, requesting anonymity. “They are the de facto employers these days and nobody questions their authority.”

What seems to have made things easy for the stars is the absence of criticism even from the media. With the advent of the electronic media, many TV channels have literally been undertaking PR work for them.

Political turn

While Mammootty preferred not to react to the allegations, things took a political turn when the All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC), the CPI’s trade union wing, came out in support of Thilakan. The organisation held a reception for Thilakan at Vaikkom, native place of Mammootty.

Thilakan, who has been shooting his mouth against the stars at public functions, made a vain effort to elicit CPM support by reminding the party that he was part of the cultural movement that propped up communism. But there was no response.

Surely, nobody wants to cross swords with popular stars and earn the wrath of their fans. The superstars wield absolute power since a film’s success often hinges on their presence. However, the stars often forget the fact that with absolute power comes absolute responsibility.

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