In his final days, Thilakan, a national-award-winning doyen of Malayalam cinema, was almost entirely out of work because of the alleged boycott by two powerful organisations in the industry — one representing actors and the other, technicians. His crime was he acted in the movies of a director, who was blacklisted by these associations.
Instead of cowing down, Thilakan fought them valiantly. For him it was a matter of principle, even if it cost him his beloved art and livelihood. According to him, the organisations behaved like a "mafia" and his right to work was inalienable.
In a landmark order on Friday, the Competition Commission of India more or less endorsed what Thilakan had alleged all along. The commission found AMMA (Association of Malayalam Movie Artists) and FEFKA (Film Employees Federation of Kerala), their office-bearers, and two of FEFKA's affiliates guilty of violating the Competition Act (2002), which essentially meant they had abused their authority and indulged in anti-competitive practices. The commission has imposed hefty penalties on the associations and the office-bearers.
Thilakan's crime was he acted in the movies of a director, who was blacklisted by these associations
The man who fought the case was Vinayan, the defiant director who was in the bad books of AMMA and FEFKA. He was a lone fighter against what appeared to be a huge cartel backed by the superstars of the industry. In fact, it was his association with Vinayan that made Thilakan an industry outcast. With this favourable verdict, Vinayan has found justice for himself and also for the late actor.
Vinayan went to the commission alleging that these associations and their office-bearers banned actors, technicians, producers and financiers from working with him because of an organisational rivalry. Even new actors who were willing to work with him were threatened.
His contention was that AMMA, FEFKA and other "opposite parties" have "affected fair competition in the market, the interests of consumers and freedom of trade carried on by other participants by limiting and restricting the market in contravention of the provisions of Section 3(3) of the Act". He also charged that the "opposite parties, by virtue of its dominant position in the Malayalam film industry, has sought to control and abuse it within the meaning of Section 4 of the Act".
The commission found prima facie merit in his petition and asked its Director General to investigate
The commission found prima facie merit in his petition and asked its Director General (DG) to investigate.
After detailed hearings and scrutiny of documents, the DG found material evidence that establish that AMMA and FEFKA indeed prevented people from associating with Vinayan, and they even colluded with each other in excluding him and Thilakan. There were multiple instances in which the associations used their organisational muscle to warn, bar and even take disciplinary action against its members for associating with the director. There was also sufficient material evidence to show there was indeed an explicit organisational ban on Thilakan, which AMMA, FEFKA and the leading stars always denied.
The details in the commission's order are frightening because they demonstrate how the Malayalam movie industry, which produces 100-150 movies a year, is dominated by a couple of powerful lobbies, working with each other towards a common monopolistic goal. As various instances in the case show, the decisions of AMMA are strengthened by complimentary moves by FEFKA or, in other words, some key actors and technicians work hand-in-glove to control the industry. If one doesn't find favour with them, they find no work. It's hard to break in without their patronage.
The details in the commission's order are frightening because they demonstrate how the Malayalam movie industry ... is dominated by a couple of powerful lobbies
Besides written minutes that show organisational exclusion of himself, Thilakan and the people associating with them, what helped Vinayan win the case were the depositions by a number of others, including popular actor Jayasuriya and industry veteran Madhu.
Jayasuriya deposed that there was an "informal ban on any artist" working with Vinayan and "affirmed having received a call in the year 2013 from Shri Unnikrishnan (General Secretary of FEFKA) and Shri Sibi Malayil (President of FEFKA) advising him to avoid working with the Informant till the issues are resolved". Madhu told the Commission that in 2011, he accepted an offer to act in a film by Vinayan, but the office bearers of FEFKA dissuaded him, following which he opted out.
Similarly, the commission's investigation revealed that a cinematographer from another industry was curtailed; a ban was imposed on an art-director; and disciplinary action was taken against a mainstream south Indian actor, Meghna Raj, to prevent Vinayan from making movies. There were many other testimonies from producers, actors and technicians that showed how concertedly AMMA, FEFKA and its office-bearers worked to boycott the director and deny him his right to work.
There were many ... testimonies from producers, actors and technicians that showed how concertedly AMMA, FEFKA and its office-bearers worked to boycott the director
Vinayan was one of the successful mainstream directors of the Malayalam movie industry, who introduced many new faces that later on became extremely successful, until he fell out with some bigwigs. Instead of standing down, he took them on, although the price he had to pay was hefty. He has been fighting the case since 2010 and has barely been able to keep his head up. This verdict is a huge shot in the arm for him, though it's unlikely to change his fortune because the stars will continue to control the industry. Nobody would want to get into their bad books and risk their career.
Thilakan had always alleged it was the superstars, such as Mohan Lal and Mammootty, who ran AMMA and FEFKA by proxy to protect their interests. Vinayan also had the same opinion. In fact, in his petition to the commission he had also listed them as "opposite parties" along with AMMA and FEFKA. However, the commission didn't pursue the charges against them because it couldn't find sufficient prima facie evidence.
Vinayan was one of the successful mainstream directors ... who introduced many new faces that later on became extremely successful, until he fell out with some bigwigs
The verdict is also a big snub to the ruling CPM because the party refused to help Thilakan when he first complained. Then culture minister MA Baby, who otherwise takes a keen interest in the arts, chose to be evasive on the issue. Thilakan, a self-confessed communist, had said he had sought Baby's help, but to no avail. Many speculated the CPM's inability to help Thilakan stemmed from its association with Mammootty, who was a fellow-traveller of the party.
At least now, the CPM should take a stand to prevent such cartelisation and boycotts that deny people their right to work and right to life because the associations and its office-bearers, which include a member of Parliament, have been declared guilty. It's not Vinayan's word against the monopolies' word any more. It's a judicial verdict. There should be some follow-up action.
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