Kerala Chalachitra Academy chairman Ranjith faces resignation calls over badmouthing

Ranjith is said to enjoy the benevolence and confidence of Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and Cultural Affairs Minister Saji Cheriyan.

ByK A Shaji

Published Dec 16, 2023 | 11:00 AMUpdatedDec 16, 2023 | 4:01 PM


“Loose lips sink ships,” propaganda posters said during World War II. The idiom stands true in non-military and non-espionage contexts as well.

As he walked down the steps of the Nishagandhi Auditorium on the sprawling Kanakakunnu Palace premises in Thiruvananthapuram on Friday, 15 December, Ranjith Balakrishnan, the chairman of Kerala State Chalachitra Academy, might have realised that unguarded talk could invite more than boos.

Despite his deft handling of the 28th edition of the International Film Festival of Kerala (IFFK), the man better known mononymously as Ranjith might be remembered more for his unsavoury remarks that forced the Chalachitra Academy members to convene a parallel meeting and demand his resignation.

The creator of some of the most high-profile Malayalam blockbusters, Ranjith became the chairman of the academy, which functions under the Department of Culture of the Kerala government, in 2021.

Though most of his screenplays and directorial ventures stand aloof for their casteist and misogynistic slurs, Ranjith landed the coveted job since he enjoyed Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and Cultural Affairs Minister Saji Cheriyan’s benevolence and confidence.

He was appointed chairman despite many fellow-travellers of the ruling LDF citing the aforementioned casteist and misogynist traits in his cinemas.

On his part, Ranjith never missed an opportunity to repeatedly assert that was an active worker of feeder organisations to the CPI(M), and loyal to Left principles.

At the concluding function of the IFFK at Nishagandhi on Friday, Ranjith was the lone person on the dais.

The crowded auditorium received him with collective booing, though the audience comprised mostly of the cadres of the ruling LDF.

The booing grew louder as he took up the microphone to deliver the welcome speech. The loudspeakers were no match as the night reverberated with the collective voice of disapproval of his foulmouthing colleagues in the film fraternity.

Ranjith could not complete his speech. He left it midway.

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Demand for Ranjith’s ouster

Meanwhile, another scene unfolded. Nine members of the academy’s general council submitted a memorandum to Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan.

They wanted Ranjith to be removed from the post of chairman. They informed the chief minister of his unsavoury remarks against some of the top directors and actors.

The nine members — all loyalists of Vijayan — also shot off a letter to Cheriyan demanding immediate action against Ranjith who, they said, has been nursing a feudal hangover.

According to available information, general council members Manoj Kana, Arun N, Mummy Century, and Prakash Sreedhar have written to the chief minister saying they would not continue working with Ranjith.

Other members, Kuku Parameswaran, Sohan Sinulal, and Sibi K Thomas, signed the petition submitted to Cheriyan.

One of the members, who did not wish to be identified, told South First that working with Ranjith had become difficult for most council members due to his rude behaviour and feudal mindset.

He also said the chairman’s public comments brought disrepute to the academy and the government.

Things came to a head two days ago when he responded inappropriately to a woman member of the council, he said.

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The triggers

Ranjith’s utterings did not go well with the film fraternity. On Friday, eminent filmmaker Vinayan publicly urged him to immediately consult a psychiatrist, saying no one in the right frame of mind would make such atrocious statements.

Vinayan, a Left sympathiser, further stated that Ranjith was continuing in the post only because of his proximity to Vijayan and Cheriyan.

By evening, a Malayalam television news channel aired an interview with Cheriyan. The minister admitted that all was not well in the academy. He said some of the comments by Ranjith were unwarranted and not fit for those who hold high offices.

However, Cheriyan added that the government did not think that Ranjith should quit.

“Ranjith has been making statements unbecoming of his position and bringing disrepute to the academy right from the beginning. Despite the academy successfully conducting the IFFK, he is making comments degrading even the status of the institution,” another member of the general council told South First.

“He told a newspaper last week that cinema has no power to influence people and that only fools will think otherwise. The academy is duty-bound to make cultural interventions. Ranjith’s statement goes against this objective,” he added.

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Ranjith unperturbed

When contacted, Ranjith said the general council members were free to approach the government with evidence to back their claims. He said he would give fitting replies if the government sought an explanation.

Three days ago, filmmaker Dr Bijukumar Damodaran, known widely as Dr Biju, resigned from the board of the Kerala State Film Development Corporation (KSFDC).

Though Dr Biju refused to disclose the reasons for his decision, the resignation came a day after Ranjith made some controversial remarks about Dr Biju and his films in a newspaper interview.

Referring to Dr Biju’s latest, Adrishya Jalakangal, Ranjith opined that his contribution to Malayalam cinema was zero. However, that film was screened in the Kaleidoscope category of the IFFK.

Responding to Ranjith on Facebook, Dr Biju said Ranjith was not qualified enough to judge his film.

“A Turkish filmmaker named Nuri Bilge Ceylan headed the jury that gave me my most recent international recognition. You can ask someone about that filmmaker. Since he is also a director whose films don’t fill theatres, you may not know his relevance either,” he said in the post.

Ranjith had said that Dr Biju’s movies did not bring the audience to the theatres.

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The Bheeman Raghu remarks

Ranjith had also made some disparaging statements about actor Bheeman Raghu, who joined CPI (M) after spending a few years with the BJP.

Ranjith showed contempt for Raghu in an interview with The New Indian Express, saying that even with his bulky body, the actor lacked the intelligence to be respected.

The chairman drew attention to the state film award ceremony in which Raghu stood in front of the dais during the entire duration of Vijayan’s speech, apparently to get the chief minister’s attention.

Vijayan, however, did not acknowledge Raghu’s presence. Ranjith sarcastically said that the chief minister did not even glance in the direction of Raghu.

He added that Raghu lacked intellect despite having a muscular body, and “they” (the film fraternity) have been making fun of him for the same reason for years.