In 2008, the action thriller film Twenty: 20 saw an opening day collection of Rs 1 crore, which was the highest for any Malayalam film until then. The film starred superstars Mammootty, Mohanlal, Suresh Gopi, Jayaram, and Dileep — together on screen for the first time — and none of the actors took any remuneration because Twenty: 20 was a fundraiser for the Association of Malayalam Movie Artistes (AMMA). The film reportedly went on to make Rs 32 crore and the money was distributed to actors in the industry who were struggling financially.
For AMMA and its influential members to go to such lengths to take care of underprivileged members of the industry is laudable. Established in 1994, AMMA is a film body for actors working in Malayalam cinema. It currently has 487 members. Over the years, AMMA has contributed hefty sums to the Chief Minister's Distress Relief Fund when Kerala faced natural disasters. The film body gives a monthly pension of Rs 5,000 to veteran actors who are no longer active in cinema, and sometimes pays for their medical care, too. It functions as a representative for actors when dealing with other associations such as FEFKA (Film Employees Federation of Kerala, which is for technicians). Though the organisation has sometimes received flak for sidelining a few members, it has largely enjoyed the goodwill of the industry. Or at least, that's the impression that outsiders got.
However, in recent years, AMMA's behaviour has felt more like that of a reigning, misogynist patriarch rather than a collective that looks out for the vulnerable in the Malayalam film industry.
Consider this: AMMA has repeatedly refused to acknowledge the problems confronting its women members. The organisation has shown no initiative to push the Kerala state government to make the Hema Committee's study of issues faced by women in the Malayalam film industry available to the public. Also, it took the Women in Cinema Collective (WCC) going to court and getting a ruling in its favour for AMMA to set up an internal complaints committee (ICC) this year.
There's more. On June 27th, AMMA put out a video titled 'Vijay Babu Entry at AMMA 28th General Body Meeting' on its official YouTube channel. The video glorified actor-producer Vijay Babu's arrival at the meeting and showed people from the industry welcoming him with bear hugs. On its own, the video seems innocent enough, but there is a context to keep in mind.
Vijay Babu has been accused of raping a woman actor. After she filed a complaint in April this year, he released her name to the public during a Facebook Live, which is in violation of the Indian Penal Code, which requires the identity of a rape survivor to remain protected. Babu then fled to Dubai to evade arrest. The actor-producer has previously been accused of assault by his then co-producer Sandra Thomas and his wife.
After journalists raised questions about why AMMA had allowed Babu to attend its general body meeting when he was under investigation, AMMA uploaded the video of Vijay Babu's entry as retaliation.
For those who may have forgotten, Dileep was accused of masterminding the abduction and sexual assault of a woman actor in February 2017. Despite his enormous clout in the Malayalam film industry — he was the producer of Twenty:20 and also acted in it — Dileep was forced to resign from AMMA in October 2018, following widespread criticism from the media, the public, and WCC. Kumar's argument was that Vijay Babu was being given preferential treatment compared to Dileep. All those accused of violence against women must be treated equally, he contended.
Contrary to Kumar's claims, AMMA was not really censorious of Dileep after the allegations against him became a matter of public record. Dileep was expelled in 2017 only once he was arrested. When superstar Mohanlal took over as AMMA President in 2018, among the first things the body did was reinstate Dileep. Dileep would later resign because of widespread criticism. If questions hadn't been persistently raised about Dileep's reinstatement, perhaps he would have still been a part of AMMA.
AMMA's commitment to building a more equal and safe film industry is questionable. The organisation has never had a woman as its president. It was only last year that actor Shwetha Menon became AMMA's first woman vice president. Recently, Menon and two other women actor members resigned from AMMA's newly-constituted internal complaints committee (ICC), protesting the lack of disciplinary action against Vijay Babu. Rather than accepting these members' demand to suspend the actor-producer, AMMA opted for a route that made Babu look gracious — it accepted his offer to "gracefully" step away from AMMA's executive committee.
Incidentally, when AMMA received the letter from Babu, he was officially absconding from the police, which had issued a notice for his arrest. When asked about the organisation's stand, spokesperson Edavela Babu said at a recent press meet that Vijay Babu hadn't been expelled from AMMA because AMMA is a "club" and the actor hasn't been expelled from other clubs in which he is a member.
From stage shows that mock the WCC to blatant support of a rape accused, AMMA's bias towards its powerful, male members is obvious. The charity work that the organisation has done as well as the help it has extended to veteran artists may help maintain AMMA's public reputation. However, the contrast between the way it regards its women and men members begs the question of whether AMMA is really fulfilling the role that it was created to perform.