Whether Aamir Khan or Mohanlal, "anti-govt" or "pro-govt", an individual's right to freedom of expression must be respected.
Malayalam actor Mohanlal has come under wrath for expressing his support for PM Narendra Modi's demonetisation move. Writing under the title "A big salute to virtuous India" on his blog, Mohanlal expressed his happiness that the PM had taken initiative to end corruption and black money.
The blog post was written on November 21, several days after the demonetisation of high value currency had been implemented and reports from different parts of the country suggested that all was not well. From people scrambling to exchange the newly issued 2k note for smaller denominations to news about deaths due to the suddenness of the move, the murmurs about the efficacy of demonetisation and its implementation have grown louder.
Mohanlal's views are not particularly original or insightful. Most celebrities - from Bollywood to Kollywood - have been falling over themselves to congratulate the PM on his "masterstroke", dismissing people's hardship as an unwillingness to be patriotic.
Mohanlal's statement comparing the wait at liquor outlets and the ATM queue have angered the average Malayali. But the comparison is no more absurd than Virender Sehwag saying people could afford to stand in a line to "rescue" the country if Hanumanthappa, an Indian soldier, could wait for rescue 35 feet under snow for six days.
In fact, Mohanlal has said absolutely nothing that other celebrities before him haven't said. As a public figure, the criticism is only to be expected, especially when the celebrity belongs to a politically aware state like Kerala.
The actor's views are elitist - one might even say naive - and as members of the public, we have every right to criticise him for it. Wondering if he has any ulterior motives or future political ambitions too is fine. What's not kosher however, is to say that Mohanlal should stick to acting and not express his views about an issue of national interest. When everyone with a social media account is holding forth on the subject, why shouldn't an actor do so? Are only bankers and economists permitted to voice their views on the subject?
Celebrities do have a larger social responsibility, given that their fame gives them a platform from where they can reach out to a large number of people, but it is unreasonable to expect them to fall in line with the public's mood every time.
When Aamir Khan expressed his views about growing religious intolerance in India and shared that his wife had asked him if they should leave the country, he faced tremendous backlash not only from political quarters but also the general public. At that point, Khan's stance was seen as "anti-government" and he was attacked for it. Currently, Mohanlal is facing ire for a "pro-government" stance. In both instances, it is the individual's right to freedom of expression that has been challenged.
Calling Mohanlal a "sanghi" or dismissing him as "brainless" because he's "just an actor" is a refusal to engage with an alternate point of view, however much you might disagree with it. The unwillingness to deal with the other side of the debate can prove costly too (ask the Democrat voters in America). Mohanlal deserves a critique - but telling him to shut up doesn't serve as one.
Note: Views expressed are personal opinions of the author.