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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 25 June 2018

Dark underside of India's film industry in the spotlight in molestation of actress

The Kerala actor Dileep has been questioned in the ongoing investigations related to the kidnapping and molestation of a popular Malayalam actress

CHENNAI // An investigation into the kidnap and molestation of a popular Malayalam actress has roiled Kerala’s film world, implicating some of its biggest stars and exposing the industry’s seamy underside.

The actress, who remains unnamed to protect her privacy, was snatched by five men who stopped her car as she was driving from Thrissur to Kochi in February.

Police said the men then molested her in a moving vehicle as they filmed and took photos before letting her go after two hours.

The central suspect in the investigation is Sunil Kumar, whom the actress identified as one of her attackers. Mr Kumar has worked as a driver for various actors in Kerala's Malayalam film industry, known as Mollywood.

Mr Kumar and an accomplice were arrested in February, soon after the actress submitted her complaint to the police and before any attempt had been made to blackmail her.

But more and more people working in Mollywood have been implicated in the case after police discovered in mid-June that Mr Kumar and an accomplice were demanding 15 million rupees (Dh850,000) from the star actor Dileep to hide his involvement.

On Tuesday, police questioned the comedian Dharmajan Bolghatty and Dileep's brother and business manager, Anoop Pillai.

Dileep was himself interrogated for a marathon 13 hours on June 29, along with his agent, Apunni, and Nadirshah, a film director Dileep has worked with. All of the men go by single names.

Police have indicated that Dileep’s wife, the actress Kavya Madhavan, will soon be questioned. Her office, out of which she runs an online fashion boutique, was raided by police last week.

Mr Kumar, who has been formally charged, hinted on Monday that “big sharks” were involved in the case.

“I am on a fish hook. They are still swimming,” he told reporters at a Kochi court.

Although Dileep has denied knowing Mr Kumar, a selfie of the star with two fans — taken around the time of the abduction — shows a figure resembling Mr Kumar in the background.

After his interrogation, Dileep told reporters he had no knowledge of the crime. “I am being character assassinated,” he said.

On Wednesday, Kerala’s chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan promised: “Whoever the big fish is, it will fall into the police net.”

Mr Vijayan has been criticised by the opposition Congress party for prematurely stating, in February, that no larger conspiracy involving public figures lay behind the crime.

Mr Vijayan’s remark “is being read … as a ploy to torpedo the case and help the real culprits”, P M Hassan, the president of the Congress party in Kerala, said on Wednesday.

Police have indicated that further arrests are likely.

“The main charge sheet [against Mr Kumar] has already been filed and now it’s the conspiracy angle that is being probed,” B Sandhya, the additional director-general of police in Kerala, said on Tuesday.

“The probe is going on in the right direction.”