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Above: Ad filmmaker-turned-director VA Shrikumar Menon (right) was pivotal in facilitating the second coming of Manju Warrier (left) into the tinsel world

Following a complaint from acclaimed actress Manju Warrier who accused director VA Shrikumar Menon of threatening and defaming her, many sections of the IPC were filed against him

By NV Ravindranathan Nair in Thiruvananthapuram

After a brief lull, the tinsel world in Kerala is once again in the media glare for reasons other than artistic. With the state police registering a case against ad filmmaker-turned-director VA Shrikumar Menon on a complaint lodged by National Film Award-winning actress Manju Warrier, another controversy has erupted.

Warrier’s complaint that Menon had threatened and defamed her on social media and that there was a potential threat to her life from him prompted the Thrissur East Town police station, where she had filed her complaint, to hand it over to the Crime Branch. Earlier, on October 22, Warrier had met Kerala DGP Loknath Behera and filed the complaint with him. She told the DGP that she was afraid of Menon causing her physical harm. She also alleged that she feared misuse of the letterhead of her Manju Warrier Foundation and her signed blank cheques which were in the possession of Menon. She said she had been subjected to vicious and organised trolling at his behest.

The police said they had charged Menon under various sections of the IPC, including Sections 354D (stalking) and 509 (any word, gesture or act intended to insult the modesty of a woman) and under Section 120 (O) of the Kerala Police Act for defaming a woman on social media. Taking a cue from the top brass of the police, crime branch officials recorded the statement of Warrier. According to the investigators, Warrier handed over some digital evidence also to them. Sreenivasan, ACP in the Crime Branch, who recorded Warrier’s statement on October 26, said: “Based on her statement, the police will proceed with the inquiry.”

Menon, an ace ad filmmaker, has several famous brands under his belt and was pivotal in facilitating the second coming of Warrier into the tinsel world after a gap of 14 years. Their association culminated in Menon directing her in the Mohanlal film Odiyan produced last year. However, the film was not a hit and its failure to take off was cited as the reason behind the love-hate relationship both shared. Menon had put the blame on Warrier for not promoting the film enough. Following this, she levelled grave charges against Menon and his friends. She alleged that the director had threatened her and some of her close friends, and tried to defame her by orchestrating a hate campaign against her on social media. Reacting to this, Menon said in a Facebook post that he came to know about the police complaint only through the media and would cooperate with the investigation. “Did you forget that it was I only helped you during difficult times? How quickly you forgot the relationships and friendships that you made through me?” he wrote in his post. Menon also reminded her that he had paid her Rs 25 lakh in advance for an ad film when she walked out of her home with just Rs 1,500 in her account.

Reacting to Menon’s post, filmmaker and activist Vidhu Vincent and dubbing artiste Bhagya Lakshmi came out in Warrier’s support. “One who employs you is your employer, not your owner,” said Vincent. “Everyone has the right to work and live with self-respect. Like anyone else, Manju has the right to decide when to stop working or make a comeback, what job to do and whom to do it with,” Vincent’s FB post said. Lakshmi termed Menon’s long post as “pure gossip”. “He says it was he who gave her a second life and Manju hasn’t been grateful for it. It looks like a malicious post made by those people who have no life,” she said.

Warrier’s complaint also included remarks against mediaperson Mathew Samuel for the cyber attacks she was facing. Mathew explained that he had posted a video over a month ago about a colony adopted by the Warrier Foundation at Panamaram panchayat in Wayanad district. “Three years ago Manju Warrier’s foundation had adopted a Paniya tribal village in Parakuni. Manju had promised the poor people there that her foundation would build 52 houses for them. It was supposed to be a Rs 2 crore project. I got all the documents from the panchayat and had posted a video story which went viral. Tribal activists then took it up. They insisted that Manju build the houses. That is why Manju is accusing me of a cyber attack,” he said.

Menon had attracted criticism earlier too for breach of trust related to making a film based on renowned writer MT Vasudevan Nair’s celebrated work Randamoozham. In 2017, it was announced that Menon would be directing the film adaptation, which is based on the Mahabharata and had Mohanlal in the lead role of Bhima. The film was to be produced by UAE-based businessman BR Shetty on an investment of Rs 1,000 crore, making it the costliest film ever made in India. But all the plans went topsy-turvy as Menon could not start shooting even after three years, forcing MT to move court to get his script back. Menon’s repeated efforts to pacify MT did not succeed. Though the Kozhikode Munsif Court granted an injunction in MT’s favour, Menon moved the district court calling for arbitration. Now the case is pending with the court, leaving film buffs disappointed. These controversies have dented the image of the actor and the director in the public eye.

According to reports, Warrier was also instrumental in the arrest of her ex-husband and popular actor Dileep in March 2018 in the alleged kidnapping and assault of another actress to whom she extended moral support. However, the second accused in the case, Martin Antony, had stated during custody that Warrier had crafted the conspiracy. He went on to allege that the arrest of Dileep was a ploy by Warrier, actress Remya Nambeesan, Menon and filmmaker Lal. He had also alleged that Warrier managed to get a flat in Mumbai and a chance in Odiyan as part of the conspiracy.

This is quite an unseemly episode in Malayalam cinema.

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