A Turn In The South
Malayalam filmstar Mammootty's cosying up to the BJP irks leftists in Kerala
IN KERALA, politics pervades ordinary life perhaps much more than in the rest of the country. It is also not fashionable in God’s own country to hold vague views when it comes to politics, and artistes are no exception to the rule.
Kerala’s matinee idol Mammootty, the winner of four national awards and five Filmfare awards, is discovering this bitter truth now. Once the darling of the Left, he has come under intense attack after he lauded BJP prime ministerial candidate LK Advani’s book, My Life, My Country, at a function to release the book in Kerala. The 55-year-old actor, who was awarded the Padma Shri in 1998, and who was once the target of Hindutva forces, is being criticised by the Leftists.
Mammootty is also under fire for becoming a brand ambassador of Microsoft’s e-literacy drive in Kerala, which is fast emerging as India’s free software destination due to the CPM’S opposition to Microsoft’s attempts to monopolise the IT field. As free software groups and Left groups step up their criticism of Mammootty, the party has itself chosen to remain silent. The superstar continues to remain chairman of CPM’s television channel and is a close confidant of party state secretary, Pinarayi Vijayan.
Mammootty’s reputation among Left circles reached a peak last year when he chose to ignore warnings from the Right against inaugurating the national meet of CPM’s youth wing Democratic Youth Federation of India (DYFI) in Chennai. At that meeting, Mammootty termed the Left as a corrective force and said that the carnage in Gujarat would not have happened had the Left been a formidable force there.
The comment angered the Sangh Parivar and the Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha (BJYM) threatened to boycott Mammootty’s films. Hundreds of his effigies were burnt in different parts of the state in protest. Mammootty has always been proud of his solidarity with the Left. Though another Malayalam film superstar, Mohanlal, refused to become a director of the CPM’s Kairali television channel fearing the alienation of his viewers affiliated to the Congress and the BJP, Mammootty accepted the offer.
He had also refused to become the brand ambassador of Coca Cola when Chief Minister VS Achuthanandan advised him against it. But that picture is fast changing now.
“The support from Pinarayi is helping him to continue as chairman of the television channel,” says a senior Left leader who preferred anonymity. He said that two years ago eminent Malayalam literary critic MN Vijayan was removed from the editorship of CPM’s weekly newsmagazine for writing in other publications, disassociating himself from the ideological compromises of a section of leaders. He wanted to know why Pinarayi was not applying the same standards in the case of Mammootty as well.
IN FACT, the Achuthanandan camp in the CPM is upset over the Pinarayi’s continuing patronage of Mammootty. Achuthanandan is a champion of free software. He is also unhappy that the man in-charge of the party’s television channel praised a top BJP leader.
Mammootty’s recent appearance in a Malayalam film, Roudram, as an IPS officer who takes on an ‘inflexible’ chief minister (clearly a take-off on Achuthanandan) had raised many eyebrows.
Last year, Malayalam media had reported that Mammootty played a key role in winning back investment from Dubai’s Internet City to the multi-crore Smart City Project in Kochi, which promises 90,000 jobs. But sources close to Achuthanandan, the key architect of the Smart City deal, say that Mammootty had no such major role in the project. It was just media hype planted by the Pinarayi camp to belittle Achuthanandan’s efforts. The CPM has been riven with factionalism ever since Achuthanandan used people’s support to upstage Pinarayi in the run-up to state Assembly elections in 2006. This also ensured that Pinarayi’s hopes of becoming chief minister remained a wish.
“Mammootty was bold enough to call a spade a spade at the national meet of DYFI in Chennai. But he also praised Advani’s concept of India-Pakistan confederation while participating in the book release,” says Ninan Koshi, a Leftist thinker in Kerala. Koshi said he wished the actor had attempted a comparison between the Gujarat about which he talked at the Chennai DYFI meet and the image of Gujarat appearing in Advani’s book before attending the release function.
At the book release function, the filmstar surprised even the Sangh Parivar by terming the book as a “statesman’s biography” reflecting the country’s history and political scenario.
The actor, who cancelled his shoot to participate in the function, also wished good luck to Advani to become India’s next prime minister. While Leftists see it as an attempt by the actor to regain the confidence of viewers affiliated with the BJP, Mammootty is not ready to give any political colour to his participation.
“It was just a book release function. I am not part of any political party and my participation in the function assumes no political significance. I was just showing courtesy,” said Mammootty. However, he is silent on the decision to align with Microsoft.
Youth Congress state president T. Siddique is more vociferous in attacking Mammootty for sharing the dais with Advani. “DYFI must apologise to the people having secular values for inviting him to inaugurate its national meet. It must be the duty of Pinarayi Vijayan to remove him from the chairmanship of Kairali channel. Otherwise, we would be forced to believe that the CPM and the DYFI too share Mammootty’s perspective on Hindutva,’’ he told TEHELKA.
“With which political philosophy does he associate himself?’’ asked PC George MLA, chairman of Kerala Congress (Secular).
“The CPM must make its stand clear on Mammootty. He would not dare to participate in Advani’s function without permission from Pinarayi Vijayan,” adds George. He says there are reasons to believe that the CPM Kerala unit chief was trying to mend fences with Advani. “To prove this allegation wrong, the CPM needs to remove him from its television channel,’’ says George.
The change in the approach of the BJYM is also palpable. The outfit which attacked Mammootty last year is all out to support the star. “Mammootty is not an asset of any political party. He is a member of none. So he can participate in any function,’’ says BJYM state president K. Surendran.
On celluloid, Mammootty had both Marxist and Hindu religious avatars. In films like Stalin Shivadas, he perfected the art of being a hardcore Marxist.
Others like Dhruvam has enacted his character coming from an upper-caste background. But in real life, he is now under increasing pressure to define his political leanings: either as a Leftist or as a man who has a soft corner for Hindutva.