20080711

Ayyo, AMMA!

MACTA fiasco

While the rest of the country worries over fuel prices and inflation, Kerala prefers a cinematic cause celebre, reports KA SHAJI

IT’S AN incredible example of navel-gazing. In a week in which news channels across the country were exercised about issues such as the fuel price hike and the Congress-Left parties impasse, television channels in Kerala were fretting about their cinema controversy.

In this theatre of the absurd, since June 4, three of the top Malayalam television channels gave almost 30 percent of airtime to the escalating turf war between the Malayalam Cine Technicians’ Association (MACTA) and the superstar-heavy Association of Malayalam Movie Artists (AMMA). Did consumers in Kerala share their news channels’ priorities? Or did the controversy simply provide Malayalis with a slapstick diversion? Either way, no one offered them a choice.

From the time that MACTA’s vaudeville act unfolded, little else occupied the media space. At an executive meeting attended by film actors, directors and technicians, MACTA general secretary and film director Vinayan allegedly said something that caused the crème de la crème of the federation — Siddique, Fazil, Joshy, Priyadarshan, Sibi Malayil, Lal Jose, Rafi-Mecartin, Shafi, Johny Antony, Anwar Rasheed — to resign en masse. They walked out and into the waiting arms of AMMA, run by the capos of Malayalam cinema, Mammootty and Mohanlal. Soon they were joined by the Producers’ Union and then the Writers’ Union.

It all began when actor Dileep walked out of a project to be directed by Tulasidas. Sources say that Tulasidas was ousted from the film at Dileep’s behest and so he accused the actor of walking out without returning the advance. “The Dileep-Tulasidas issue could have been sorted out by the directors. But their union referred it to the MACTA executive council. I had warned Vinayan a trap has been laid for him,” said John Paul, a neutral figure and one of Malayalam cinema’s finest scriptwriters.

Vinayan issued Dileep a showcause notice and a ban order. But Siddique, who wanted a hasslefree start for his new film with Dileep, said that bans were foolish. This prompted Vinayan’s comment, which triggered the resignation drama.

Was this an AMMA tactic to cut Vinayan to size? Even his friends admit that it was as a trade union leader that Vinayan found his metier. He had fought the producers when they tried to ban filmmakers, insisted actors pay for cost overruns caused by their failure to keep schedules and had daily allowances of film drivers and unit boys increased. Producers threatened to stop work, but he ordered MACTA members to strike and the Malayalam film industry came to a standstill. The producers gave in. “If the breakaway group feels Vinayan has grown into a monster, they are responsible. They could have voted him out last year, but their dislike of each other was greater,’’ says a Vinayan follower.

Now, there is a vertical split in MACTA and a leading actor says AMMA will become a trade union. As part of a strategy to hijack MACTA’s role, AMMA leaders told Dileep on June 29 to return the advance. Though Vinayan did urge the breakaway faction to return, it seems as if he has won the battle but lost the war.

As for the viewers, they too have won the battle for film information — they have much more detail than they need — but have lost the war of choice. •

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