July 04, 2020
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When The Paints Go Marchin' In

Malayalam stars get political, an itch so far left unscratched

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When The Paints Go Marchin' In
Poll Position
Kerala goes to the polls in April, and campaigning is on
Photo by PTI
When The Paints Go Marchin' In
  • Last Year: Actor Innocent won the Lok Sabha seat from Chalakuddy, and this may have piqued other actors' ambitions
  • This Year: Besides Ganesh Kumar, a seasoned politician-cum-actor, at least four others seem bitten by the politics bug
  • Sidelight: Even superstar Mohanlal's controversial blog on nationalism, people say, may be fired by political dreams


As Kerala goes into election mode, indications are that many Mollywood actors may take the leap—arthritic, some may say—into politics. Perhaps eyeing MLA-ship as a post-retirement benefit, it’s some mellowing stars who are giving elections a shot. On the final Congress list are actors Siddique (Aroor) and Jagadish (Pathanapuram), while rumours are the BJP will field Suresh Gopi. It’s learnt that actor K.B. Ganesh Kumar of the Kerala Congress (B), a former forest minister in the UDF government, may now team up with the Left Front.

Ganesh Kumar—the first actor to be elected to the assembly, in 2001—is perhaps the only one who has handled political and on-screen roles with ease. This might owe to his father, R. Balakrishna Pillai, a political heavyweight who has long held ministerial positions and heads the Kerala Congress (B). For, unlike in other southern states, Kerala’s voters haven’t been as giving of their votes as of their love to movie stars, whom they consider ill-informed of the realities and politics of India. As political analyst and advocate A. Jayashankar puts it, “Cinema is performance and so is politics, but the people of Kerala know the difference.”

Of course, there are exceptions, notably comedian Innocent, who became an Ind­ependent Lok Sabha MP from Chalakudy in 2014. People relate well to how he ret­ains his sense of humour and proportion while dealing with the most serious of iss­ues. His win was helped by his father having been a CPI(M) activist, which got him some Left support. Also, says Jayashankar, there was a rebellion in the Congress ranks against their fielded candidate P.C. Chacko.

It is believed Innocent’s win may have emboldened other actors to try their luck—even the likes of Suresh Gopi, who Jayashankar thinks “only has nuisance value”. What of the others? Campaigning for the UDF in all 140 constituencies seems all the political experience actor Jagadish has. And he’ll be facing the formidable Ganesh Kumar. Siddique is said to have taken part in social activities, but for all that, there are reports of anti-Siddique posters in Aroor. These debutants might draw a cautionary lesson from Prem Nazir, the evergreen Mala­yalam hero, who campaigned for the Congress in the 1980s but beat a hasty retreat when his efforts proved fruitless. Actor Murali too tasted defeat in 1999 at the hands of present KPCC president V.M. Sudheeran in Alappuzha.

But there’s no denying the political itch in Mollywood this summer. What else could explain superstar Mohanlal’s blogpost diatribe on nationalism. Titled ‘Res­pect Freedom, Respect it’s price too (sic)’, it opens with: “When India is dying, what are we living for?” He then expres­ses disgust at the fights over nationalism, calling those who question nationalism traitors, who did it from the comfort of campuses and office spaces, unlike our soldiers def­ending freedom in icy Siachen.

To be sure, there are quite a few fierce defenders of these fervent patriotic outpourings. But lending weight to his many critics are writers and critics with progressive views, such as Basheer Vallikunnu and Benyamin. One critic points out that Mohanlal seems out of sync with India’s reality—for most Indians continue to live in poverty and are struggling to survive. Some others have questioned his preachy tone and his exhortations that all parents teach their children about culture, of which there can be no simple or single definition. Benyamin, in a Facebook post, warns against Moha­nlal’s glorification of the military, which he says is unnecessary in a democracy, for soldiers are expected to do their duty. Political analyst P. Rajan, however, says such a statement was only to be expected of Mohanlal: after all, in 2008, the army made him an honorary lieutenant colonel, the first actor to be so chosen.

But if he wants his political views to be taken seriously, there must be something meatier than just a blog of Lalism, mone Dinesha! (as one of his one-liners goes).

By Minu Ittyipe in Kochi

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