Why Kerala is angry with Mohanlal off-screen: Several artistes threaten to boycott State Awards if actor is chief guest

Mohanlal must be a confused man, unable to decide if the people of Kerala love him or despise him. The Malayalam superstar continues to entertain the audience if the reaction to his latest movie, Neerali, is anything to go by. Neerali is a hit confirming that cinegoers loved the talented actor in the thriller genre. But it is his real life avatar that is getting a lot of stick.

The Kerala government, for reasons known best to them, decided to invite Mohanlal as the chief guest for the function to honour award winners at the Kerala State Awards. The event, organised in September every year, is considered the most prestigious award honoring the best in Malayalam film business.

The convention is that the Chief Minister gives away the state awards. Pinarayi Vijayan did the honours the last two years and Oommen Chandy before that. This is why eyebrows went up over why convention has been given the go-by. More so, when it is the state’s Culture Ministry that decides to choose Mohanlal over Vijayan.

A statement signed by over a hundred artistes and social and cultural activists threatens boycott of the event if Mohanlal is the chief guest at the event. The statement reads: “The Kerala state film award is the highest recognition given by a state for creative work in cinema. It is the highest honour that Malayalam cinema artistes get from their own land. Therefore this award should be given to them in an atmosphere suited to them receiving the honour. The stage should host a simple function where the chief minister presents the awards in the presence of the Minister for Culture. Bypassing the chief minister and inviting a chief guest is not only improper but also belittling the achievement of the award winners.'”

This mass petition—signed by actors like Rima Kallingal, Geetu Mohandas—makes no direct reference to Mohanlal but it is clear who it is talking about. In fact, it even refrains from mentioning the real reason why there has been such an outrage. But director Bijukumar Damodaran, who is also a jury member, was clear that after Mohanlal’s decision as AMMA president to invite tainted Malayalam star Dileep, accused in an abduction and sexual assault case involving another actor, the Superstar could not grace the event as chief guest.

In a Facebook post, Bijukumar wrote: “By this move, it is understood that the minister is living in another world which is not aware of the contemporary developments in the Malayalam film world. A strong public mood has been emerging against the anti-women practises of the Malayalam cinema industry, against the atrocities and against superstar image. At this time, it was AMMA which took a regressive stand. They have repeatedly made it clear that they are with the accused, not with the victim. The organisation decided to bring back the accused actor immediately after a superstar assumed charge as its president.”

The opposition to Mohanlal has been building up and it is sad that Kerala’s most versatile actor has ruined his public image with his decision on Dileep.

Mohanlal/Image from Twitter.Mohanlal/Image from Twitter.
Writer NS Madhavan, also one of the signatories, did not mince words when he tweeted: “Meanwhile in a parallel universe, Kerala’s culture minister invites notoriously misogynistic AMMA’s president to give away state film awards. The minister should have had some consideration for the winners, that thorough gentleman Indrans and Parvathy.” Indrans and Parvathy are the winners of the award in best actor category.

“Mohanlal’s decision at AMMA is not mentioned in the statement we have released but it is the subtext. It is someone’s bright idea to get Mohanlal into this, it has never happened before,” says Madhavan.

Others have also objected to the impropriety of inviting Mohanlal when his films also were in competition to the eventual winners. Questions have been asked if Mohanlal, who has won the best actor award six times, was invited for the glamour quotient. More importantly, it is not known if actors who are members of the Women in Cinema Collective who have won the award, will accept it from Mohanlal.

Ironically, when the AMMA decision on Dileep was taken, senior members of the CPI(M) like Thomas Isaac, MA Baby, Brinda Karat criticised the association. It is ironical when its own government then decides to embrace the person who took the decision.

“Actors like Mukesh and Ganesh who are AMMA vice presidents are also LDF MLAs. They have more responsibility than other AMMA members. CPI(M) should give us an answer why did they ask us to vote for these two people who are bothered about their friendship with Dileep and business. They have mocked at the people by taking back Dileep,” says MN Karassery, social activist who too has backed the petition.

The question that arises is whether it is fair to target Mohanlal, especially when he has promised to reach out to the actors who resigned after the AMMA decision as well as the Women in Cinema Collective, a body that was formed after the incident involving the actor last February. Those supporting the petition say Mohanlal as president symbolises AMMA and he still has not conceded it was a mistake to take an accused actor back into the fold.