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While the Supreme Court gave the Malayalam star Dileep, accused in an assault case involving an actress, some reprieve, the issue is now more to do with his future in the industry

By NV Ravindranathan Nair in Thiruvananthapuram

It’s a case that has rocked the Malayalam film industry, reached the Supreme Court, and threatens to affect the career of one of its major stars. The actor, Dileep, is one of the accused in an assault case involving an actress two years ago. Dileep was arrested on July 10, 2017 and released on bail three months later. The prosecution’s case against him was that he held a grudge against the actress as she had allegedly played a pivotal role in spoiling his first marriage with popular actress Manju Warrier. To exact revenge, the prosecution said, he had conspired with the other accused to abduct and sexually assault her and record it, and then release it in social media.

In the latest twist to the case, the Supreme Court allowed Dileep to personally inspect the contents of a memory card containing visuals of the assault. He could also, the apex court ruled, seek a second opinion from an independent agency such as the Central Forensic Science Laboratory. The bench also ruled that a memory card shall be considered a document under the CrPC. The bench of Justices AM Khanwilkar and Dinesh Maheshwari, however, did not allow the actor’s request for a cloned copy of the memory card.

However, the bench emphasised that while the accused ordinarily had the right to have a copy of such material, the issue of privacy of the victim or witness also had to be considered. The bench examined the legal question of whether the memory card was a part of the police document which had to be provided to the accused under Section 207 of the CrPC.

The bench made it clear that the only question that it had examined in this appeal was whether the contents of the memory card/pen drive referred to in the charge sheet needed to be furnished to the accused and whether it could be misused by him or any other person. It observed that in the present case, there were eight accused. Once relief is granted to Dileep, copies of the memory card/pen drive would be freely available to them under the ruling. Besides, it will be nearly impossible to keep track of its misuse and ensure its safe custody. It also stressed that it was imperative to balance the rights of both parties.

The accuser, a leading actress from Kerala, had asked the Supreme Court not to give assault visuals to Dileep or any of the other accused, saying this would ensure fair trial without her privacy being compromised. Incidentally, Dileep’s petition requesting the assault visuals was rejected in February 2018 by the Angamaly magistrate court and the Kerala High Court in August 2018.

Dileep then approached the Supreme Court in May 2019, seeking to stay the trial and asked for a cloned copy of the footage, claiming that it would help him to prove his innocence. Dileep also argued that the assault visuals had been morphed.

Following this, the Kerala government requested more time to present the case. It also said that it cannot give the visuals to the accused as he was capable of leaking them to tarnish the image of the survivor.

The government also opposed his petition for a cloned copy of the memory card, stating that Dileep was trying to delay the trial and had no right to dem­and a particular agency should conduct the probe. The Supreme Court accepted the state’s view and said the probe was going in the right direction. It also asked the trial court to complete the trial expeditiously, preferably within six months.

Dileep, who has emerged as a major player in Mollywood, had to face anger and severe criticism not only from the general public but also from his fan clubs following the incident.

After some of his films like Rama­leela achieved box-office success, it seemed that his fans had accepted his plea of innocence.

However, he has had to quit the Association of Malayalam Movie Actors, an influential body, besides shelving several films which featured him in the lead role. Being a leading actor-producer, he also invited the ire of a section of film exhibitors. Dileep’s future in the film world now depends on the outcome of the case.

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