Just a day before the famous Attukal Pongala, the world’s largest religious congregation of women, there was a post on Facebook that said another 'pongala' was already being carried out on Mohanlal, Malayalam cinema’s biggest star. When pongala is used as a slang, the only word in English that has some semblance in meaning is 'trolling.' Tennis queen Maria Sharapova was once the object of this 'worship' by Malayalees when she said sometime in 2014 she didn’t know who Sachin Tendulkar was. Malayalees from all over the world flooded Sharapova’s Facebook and twitter pages with abuses, which in turn became international news in itself.
The virtual worship in social media against Mohanlal has been intellectual on the one hand and utterly debasing on the other. The reason, as we all know by now, is one of his blog entries. In this blog titled 'Respect Freedom Respect its Price too' entered on Feb. 21, there is a prominent subtitle in Malayalam which reads 'why should we live when India is dead.' The context of this blog is explained by Mohanlal at the outset itself: he just couldn’t take the scene of a four-month old baby, Meenakshi, being shown the body of her father Lance Naik Sudheesh, who sacrificed his life for India in Siachen while standing guard against the enemies.
Mohanlal says he isn’t interested in the kind of political debates taking place in television, nor is he interested in the kind of anti-India rhetoric allegedly heard from prime educational institutions like the Jawaharlal Nehru University. In a country, where opinion regarding 'nationalism and anti-nationalism' is sharply divided, it’s almost blasphemous to utter something against the dominant mood, that is obviously for the students’ resistance movement, especially when it is said by someone like Mohanlal. He is pilloried as never before for this blog by a self-righteous online community. But we need to ask a very pertinent question here: Is this attack justified? Or, is it needed at all?
I am trying to play the devil’s advocate here. Mohanlal is a blogger when he writes a blog. The image or identity of Mohanlal as an actor need not necessarily be intricately connected with the identity of Mohanlal as a blogger. But we have all the reasons to oppose this view. One could ask, 'can the blog of Oommen Chandy, the Kerala chief minister (if he has been writing one in his spare time and if such a time exists) be different from that of Oommen Chandy, the blogger?' Perhaps, in this case Chandy cannot dissociate his blogger-self from the CM-self, as he holds an elected position. But Mohanlal, as an actor, doesn’t hold an elected position; he is honored by several positions including the Honorary Lt. Colonel’s rank, which he isn’t expected to perform in his personal or professional life. He could advertise a tea or pickle brand, but it is not necessary that he uses it in his life. It goes unsaid that the brand uses his celebrity value for promoting the commercial ends to which he is of course paid a handsome amount.
When Mohanlal sits to write a blog, he is none of the above. As some unsigned message passed through a Whatsapp groups says, it could be his 'new found existential angst' after developing an 'aversion for the life of excess.' Should that be a problem, and should that be a reason for Mohanlal not to write a blog? Siddhartha, before he became Buddha, was a prince who lived in excess. Asoka, the emperor, was a mass murderer before he became a Buddhist. Seen in the right perspective, blogs are open diaries which don’t ask anybody to read; it does not self-advertise nor does it make any attempt to 'capture' an audience. A blogger is a writer who willingly opens his rights and wrongs in his writings and let the public take a look at it. So reading a blog is as willing an act as writing a blog. With no editorial intervention, no deliberate attempts to correct grammar or factual errors, a blogger, be it Mohanlal or anybody else in the world, writes with no intention to prove a point. Blogs are usually written mainly to satisfy his/her own conscience. People follow the blog because either the writer has some celebrity value or he/she makes some interesting points to mull over. As a blogger of some fan following, I could vouch for that. Mohanlal’s opinions on nationalism and anti-nationalism are his private views which are not filtered by an editorial sieve of political correctness.
The 'pongala-loving' Malayalee and Mohanlal here in this blog share the same crisis that a mob Malayalee has been going through for a long time. This crisis is the 'crisis of the conformist.' Mohanlal in his hero and anti-hero avatars on screen, eventually re-conforms to the belief patterns of the social beings who like uniformity than difference. The war films in which Mohanlal has acted always show him making all kinds of sacrifices to keep the boundaries and pride of the nation intact. Subconsciously, he acts out the same role when he writes his blog, and he is not really equipped to debate the nuances of the alleged anti-national(ist) issue within a larger context. The Malayalee who is now ready to dare the right wing government with the 'anti-national' stance, unfortunately wants Mohanlal to conform to their views. Mohanlal also falls prey to the dominant view that he represents the elite Hindu because he belongs to the Nair caste. While his rival mega star Mammootty is a 'Communist,' Mohanlal should either be a Hindu (BJP) or Congress. To make matters worse, Mohanlal has never shied away from his indebtedness to Mata Amritanandmayi, who is seen as the representative of a degenerated religiosity and spirituality by the intellectual class.
The trolls against Mohanlal are for an emotional blog (there is an effort to splash it with some academic knowledge when he refers to the Nehru’s 'Letters to Daughter'.) People somehow forget the fact that they are just going against the very grain of the tolerance debate, which has been pitted against the dominant and state sponsored 'intolerance.' There is something typically wrong with the pongala Malayalee. Mohanlal is an actor and not a philosopher, writer, scholar or an academic. He is an actor who blogs. Why troll him, why waste time and energy in taking him to task?
(Caricature by SajiCS Cherpu)