THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: On September 23, when Dileep was in jail and there were talks not just of boycotting his 'Ramaleela' but also torching the theatres that screened the film, Manju Warrier revealed the steel in her. She put out a Facebook post. Putting out an FB post, usually done with as much glee and ease as scratching names on public toilet walls, is no earth-shattering feat. The transformative moment, the moment when Manju bared her sensationally powerful self, came not when her FB post dismissed the idea of boycotting 'Ramaleela' either, or when she announced that 'Ramaleela' was releasing on the same day as her film 'Udaharanam Sujatha'.
Not even when she, like an earnest pastor, made a fervent appeal for the success of the rival film. All of it sounded too sweet and generous. The superwoman turn came at the last, in her sign-off line. "Let people watch 'Ramaleela'... Let the justice of viewing bloom," she wrote. This sounded pious but was actually the graceful equivalent of looking the opponent in the eye. The lady was essentially asking people to leave 'Ramaleela' alone, not to put it in any kind of chains or place hurdles in its way. She, like a true hero, wanted no quarter conceded in her favour. "Let it come armed with all its deadly powers," she seemed to say.
"I will take it on with my bare hands, in its own lair." And she did. 'Ramaleela' - which came armed with a hero who had stupendous distribution clout, a producer known for his wizardry in publicity, and a cunning storyline that merged the real and the reel - took the box office by storm. But, as it turned out, the 'storm' couldn't so much as create a flutter in the loose ends of Sujatha's cheap chiffon saris. "Of course, we were a bit scared when Manju came out openly in support of 'Ramaleela'. Her voice carries a lot of force," said filmmaker Martin Prakkat, one of the producers of 'Udaharanam Sujatha'. Even her colleagues in Women in Cinema Collective were disappointed that Manju threw her weight behind 'Ramaleela'. "She could have chosen to remain silent," one of WCC's founding members said.
It was as if Manju, by saying that "behind a film is not one man but nameless multitudes who depend on it for a living", had cured people who were conflicted about watching 'Ramaleela'. But Prakkat needn't have worried. "Ours was a small film releasing in just 55 theatres but 'Ramaleela' was big, opening in nearly 200. Yet, we survived. The number of screens gradually increased, and in few days we will be celebrating 100 days," Mr Prakkat said. If days before the release of 'Ramaleela' she had calmed rising public fury, it was Manju's bold assertion two days after a female actor (her close friend) was abducted and gang-raped that changed the course of the investigation and eventually led to the arrest of Dileep four months later.
On February 19 she was among the film industry bigwigs who gathered at the Durbar Hall grounds in Kochi to express solidarity with the victim. While others indulged in hollow emotional outbursts, Manju demonstrated the spunk of a true friend. "There is a criminal conspiracy behind this. Whoever is behind this should be brought to light," she said. And then, like in a fantasy after a fairy waves her magic wand, the big players of Malayalam cinema lost their poise....