The Ram temple struggle in Ayodhya is a significant chapter in India’s history, marked by decades of religious, political, and social contention. The site, believed to be the birthplace of Lord Ram, one of the most revered deities in Hinduism, has been disputed between Hindus and Muslims for centuries. The Supreme Court of India, in a landmark judgment in 2019, ordered the construction of a Ram temple at the site while also allocating an alternative site in Ayodhya to build a mosque to replace the demolished Babri Masjid. Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated the Ram Mandir on January 22, 2024.
The inauguration of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya was a significant event that saw invitations extended to numerous celebrities from the film industry. The list of invitees included prominent figures from both Bollywood and the South Indian film industry. Notable Bollywood celebrities who were invited include Amitabh Bachchan, Alia Bhatt, Akshay Kumar, Kangana Ranaut, Tiger Shroff, Jackie Shroff, Hariharan, Ranbir Kapoor, Ayushmann Khurrana, Anushka Sharma, and Randeep Hooda. Celebrities from the South Indian film industry, such as Rajinikanth, Chiranjeevi, Mohanlal, Prabhas, Ram Charan, and Dhanush, were invited.
Mohanlal, the Malayalam superstar, made headlines for not attending the Ram Mandir grand opening ceremony in Ayodhya despite being initially confirmed as a special guest. This decision has sparked significant debate and criticism, particularly from supporters of the Ram temple. Some have even threatened to boycott Mohanlal’s movies.
Mohanlal can be called a classic example of an “apologetic Hindu.” The term “apologetic Hindu” refers to a mindset where individuals are defensive or apologetic about Hinduism’s beliefs, teachings, and practices. This mindset has developed over time due to various historical, social, and political factors. In the context of Kerala, this apologetic mindset can be seen in the state’s complex religious and political dynamics. Mohanlal experienced a series of box office flops since his 2019 blockbuster, “Lucifer.” Some of the films that did not perform well at the box office include “Marakkar,” “Aarattu,” and “Monster.” His recent movie “Malaikottai Vaaliban” also received mixed reviews and did not meet fans’ expectations, leading to a middling box office performance. On the other hand, he has been accused of being pro-Hindu by some left-Islamic-leaning individuals and groups. His positive comments about Prime Minister Modi’s “positivity and national dedication” were not well-received by the minority segment of his fanbase. Mohanlal’s apologetic stance on the Ayodhya temple can be only seen as a step towards appeasing the left and religious minorities in Kerala who deliberately control the media narrative and social debate. According to reports, Mohanlal participated in promotional endeavours for his forthcoming action drama in Dubai and Kerala.
Furthermore, it has been reported that he was in the United States filming “L2: Empuraan,” an upcoming film that occurred during a period of incongruity with the Ram Mandir inauguration ceremony.
Mohanlal has been awarded the honorary rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the
Territorial Army of India in 2009. This distinction uniquely positions him to represent the entertainment industry and the defence forces in a symbolic capacity. However, his involvement in movies depicting gold smuggling has sparked discussions about the responsibilities of his honorary military title. Gold smuggling has been a recurring theme in Malayalam movies due to its historical and contemporary relevance. With its significant expatriate population in the Gulf countries, Kerala has been a critical point for gold smuggling.
The action of gold smuggling, which might be termed treason, was celebrated in Mohanlal’s movies, such as Lucifer, Loham, and Sagar Alias Jacky. In one of his most famous films, “Irupatham Noottandu,” his character Sagar’s lines minimize the seriousness of the situation by drawing parallels between the act of smuggling gold and the act of drug trafficking, stating that “Narcotics is a dirty business.” His movie character can only see drug peddling as a crime and indirectly endorse smuggling gold as a heroic act. At the same time, the Indian government is trying to curb gold smuggling and its possible connections to terrorism. Mohanlal’s movies deliberately and constantly attempt to downplay gold smuggling, which altered the general moral intelligence of the public of Kerala. Despite the involvement of M Sivasankar, the principal secretary to Kerala CM Pinarayi Vijayan, who was suspended over the gold smuggling prob, the media in Kerala downplayed this issue. The naive attitude of Kerala media and the twisted morality around gold smuggling, which was injected by movies such as Irupatham Noottandu and Lucifer, helped Pinarayi to attain his consecutive term as a chief mister of Kerala. Gold smuggling is a serious crime that could cost someone an election; the media and people investigated it with little seriousness. As a result, Pinarayi Vijayan easily won a second term as Chief Minister of Kerala, a rare incident in Kerala’s history.
The Left-wing politics and the CPIM, which has had a significant influence in Kerala, have been accused of being biased against Hindu rites and practices while supporting radical Islamic outfits. This perceived bias has led to defensiveness among Hindus in Kerala. The rise of Hindutva politics in India has also impacted Kerala. Despite the Bhartiya Janata Party, the leading proponent of Hindutva, having limited electoral success in the state. This has led to a sense of apprehension among some sections of the population, including Hindus, who may feel the need to be apologetic or defensive about their religious identity. Mohanlal’s trying to be defensive in his religious stance appears to be his lack of willpower and grit.
What sort of success and prosperity could Mohanlal achieve by not visiting the Ayodhya temple while his counterparts Chiranjeevi and Rajinikanth did so? Mohanlal has thrown himself into the dustbin of history because he decided to withdraw from the historical event of the inauguration of the Ayodhya temple. As a result of this decision, what Mohanlal has done is reduced to the level of an ordinary person fighting for personal interests and selfish profit. In a recent interview, Sreenivasan, a well-known figure in the Malayalam film industry, revealed Mohanlal’s selfish personal interests and narrow-mindedness. He criticized Mohanlal in the context of a situation involving the late actor, Prem Nazir. According to Sreenivasan, Prem Nazir wanted to direct a film with Mohanlal in the lead role. However, Sreenivasan claimed that Mohanlal belittled Nazir’s wish and mocked that he had no other work in his old age. This controversy was stoked further when Sreenivasan revealed that he had thought of a story for the film, which was later made into the movie ‘Sandesham.’ The controversy highlights a disagreement between Sreenivasan and Mohanlal, with Sreenivasan accusing Mohanlal of hypocrisy. Sreenivasan was upset when Mohanlal shared a note stating his wish to act in Prem Nazir’s film after the director’s death, which contradicted the behaviour Sreenivasan had witnessed.
Srinivasan had criticized Mohanlal’s personal life even before this way back in 2012. It was believed that a film titled “Padmasree Bharat Dr. Saroj Kumar,” in which he played the primary character, was a satire of Mohanlal, showing some of the hypocrisy and dishonest actions he had engaged in to achieve the rank of colonel. As a continuation of the critically acclaimed “Udayananu Tharam,” this film was perceived as a subtly sarcasm that ridiculed the superstar Saroj Kumar, a figure comparable to Mohanlal.
Furthermore, Mohanlal has faced multiple allegations of tax evasion in the past. In 2011, the Income Tax Department conducted raids at Mohanlal’s residence and office premises and discovered elephant tusks at the actor’s property. Following that, the forest department filed a complaint against Mohanlal and other individuals for unlawful possession of the tusks. On the other hand, Mohanlal received a certificate of ownership for the tusks from the forest department five years later. This certificate was then contested by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India, who stated that it was awarded in contravention of the terms of the Wildlife Protection Act of 1972. In 2019, a charge sheet was filed against Mohanlal in the case.
More recently, in 2023, Income Tax officials recorded Mohanlal’s statement about a case involving film producer Antony Perumbavoor, who has produced several films featuring Mohanlal. The officials questioned the actor about his business dealings with Perumbavoor and his foreign investments. The investigation was part of a larger probe into potential tax evasion and irregularities in the Malayalam film industry.
In contrast, former MP of Rajya Sabha and leading actor of Malayalam industry Suresh Gopi, affiliated with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has faced criticism and attacks for his pro-BJP stance. These attacks have come from various quarters, including political opponents, religious fundamentalists, and the media.
A notable exception from the Malayalam film industry for not being an apologetic Hindu is Unni Mukundan, who was born and brought up in Gujarat. Unni Mukundan has been targeted by the left Islamic fundamentalist for his public declaration of being a Hindu and his portrayal of Hindu characters in his films. Unni Mukundan’s film “Meppadiyan” was criticized by these fundamentalist groups who accused that it was promoting a right-wing Hindu agenda. The film was a real-life portrayal of the helpless Hindu youth whom cunning, opportunistic minority individuals exploited. Some scenes in the movie, such as the use of a Seva Bharati ambulance and references to Lord Ayyappa, trigger the pro-Islamic activists in social media and accuse Unni and the film’s director, Vishnu Mohan, of Islamophobes. However, Unni Mukundan defended these elements, stating that the film is about an ordinary man entangled in financial difficulties and that using the Seva Bharati ambulance cannot be interpreted as promoting any political agenda.
Despite all these backlashes, Unni Mukundan has publicly declared himself a “proud Hindu” and has condemned anti-Hindu comments. Despite these controversies, there appears to be a notable lack of public support for Unni from within the Kerala film industry, especially when compared to the industry’s vocal support for other social and political issues, such as the JNU students’ agitation and the Save Lakshadweep campaign.
Mohanlal can become prouder of his Hindu beliefs by embracing and publicly acknowledging his faith, participating in significant Hindu events, and using his influence to promote understanding and respect for Hinduism. It’s important to note that being proud of one’s religious beliefs doesn’t mean disrespecting or belittling other religions. Mohanlal can express his Hindu pride while promoting interfaith dialogue and mutual respect among religious communities. In conclusion, Mohanlal’s decision not to attend the Ram Mandir inauguration and his cautious public stance on religious and political matters reflect a personal choice to be an apologetic Hindu to maintain a neutral image.