Unlike the sleeveless vests and bell-bottomed pants that Mohanlal used to sport in the '80s, the #MeToo wave in India can hardly be called a passing fad.

Mohanlal calls Me Too a fad Cos sexual abuse is just like your bell bottoms
news Me Too Tuesday, November 20, 2018 - 15:02

On Monday, speaking at a press conference to promote an upcoming charity fund-raiser show named Onnanu Namal [We Are One], by Asianet and AMMA, to be held in Abu Dhabi on December 7, superstar Mohanlal announced that he believes the #MeToo movement is a fashion and a fad, and will only last for a few days. 

When asked about the #MeToo movement during the press conference, Mohanlal said, “Everyone knows everything that has happened. There is not much problem right now in Malayalam film industry. Just don’t say things and create problems. You cannot believe that #MeToo is a movement. It is a fad, it is changing into a fashion. Anything new, it will be alive for a few days. It can happen everywhere, not only in films, everywhere.”

However, unlike the sleeveless vests and bell-bottomed pants that Mohanlal used to sport in the '80s, the #MeToo wave in India can hardly be called a passing fad. Within just two months of it hitting entertainment and journalism circles in India, the #MeToo movement has already been responsible for the resignation of several high-profile men, including Union Minister MJ Akbar, Resident Editor of the Times of India in Hyderabad, KR Sreenivas, Resident Editor of The Hindu in Kerala, Gouridasan Nair, and Hindustan Times political editor and bureau chief Prashant Jha, and was also responsible for the dissolution of #MeToo accused Vikas Bhal's Phantom Films. To call the wave of voices speaking out all over the country, and the world, a mere “passing fad” only reveals a deliberately disbelieving, disrespectful and myopic outlook on the reality of what is taking place around us right now. 

Immediately after the press conference, Mohanlal and Asianet MD K Madhavan sat down for an interview with Gulf News, where Mohanlal made a series of still more absurd statements, with the confidence and utter obliviousness to irony that a certain kind of man can pull off effortlessly. 

The interview begins with questions about the upcoming charity show, proceeds of which will go towards flood relief for Kerala. Mohanlal says that the show is going to be a great one based on the (highly original) theme of the 5 elements, and that they are trying to “go big with laser and 3D mapping”. When asked if women will play a prime role in the show, he says in a response that sounds suspiciously like a description of the role women play in most Malayalam superstar-led movies today, “Of course, they can dance, they can sing…”. 

He goes on to reveal his plans to host another such show in March. The sharp and refreshingly un-adoring reporter, Manjusha Radhakrishnan, asks him if Dileep, accused in a case of conspiracy to rape and kidnap, will be allowed to participate in that show. Mohanlal responds with a mysterious string of words that have absolutely no meaning: “If he wants to participate, then he can… But since he’s not in the association anymore, that’s a question mark. Your answer lies in your question itself.”

On Me Too

When Manjusha asks how Mohanlal could have called #MeToo a fad, and points out that women are really suffering across the globe, Mohanlal starts giggling uncontrollably, revealing that his forthcoming answer is more of a failed attempt at a joke than a recognition of the seriousness of male sexual abuse. He says, “We [men] can also come out with Me Too, with gender, gender-wise, we should also start Me Too.” 

But you see, as far as we know, nobody has ever stopped Mohanlal or any of his male colleagues in the industry from saying 'Me Too' or anything else. In fact, we've all been waiting for them to gather the courage to speak seriously and meaningfully about different forms of sexual harassment. This is why it's doubly disappointing when influential stars like Mohanlal take the easy way out by making insensitive jokes that are disrespectful to both male and female survivors, just to detract attention from the issues at hand. 

It is at this point that Asianet MD K Madhavan, a seasoned media person himself, has a justifiably nervous reaction to Mohanlal’s insensitive behaviour. Madhavan can be heard hurriedly telling the reporter not to write what Mohanlal has just said. The reporter asks Mohanlal, “Then what did you mean?”, to which he responds truthfully by saying, “Nothing, I don’t know”. 

Possibly picking up from Madhavan’s reaction that he has said something objectionable, Mohanlal stops giggling and continues in a more serious voice, “I cannot make a comment on that [#MeToo]. Only when you experience something like that, you can make a comment on it. Just giving a comment on it isn’t the right thing. I don’t know much about that.” 

On the WCC

A few questions later, Manjusha asks him about the controversial show AMMA had put up back in June, called AMMA Mazhavil, which was criticised widely for a skit that poked malicious fun at the Women in Cinema Collective (WCC), especially given that the WCC was formed, after all, as a response to the fact that AMMA did not take women’s concerns seriously. When she asks if he will be more sensitive this time around in Abu Dhabi, as opposed to the last time when AMMA was panned for the “misogynistic, sexist and anti-WCC” skit, Mohanlal engages in some bizarre double think. 

Implying stridently that the skit had nothing to do with the WCC, Mohanlal says, “Again, let me tell you that it’s your perception. We have no problems against WCC and AMMA is just a small club with its own set of rules. When you watch our programme, it’s your decision on how to perceive it. It’s your judgement and if you think that we are ridiculing you, then it’s your intelligence… We have never focused on such things. It’s their demand and intelligence that makes them feel that we have done something wrong.”

The skit in question, of course, had six women actors pretending to be the “WhatsApp Sthree Shakthi (WSS) formation”, and made direct references to statements made by actual WCC members, like Rima Kallingal’s personal and telling anecdote of first realising that gender discrimination existed when as a small child at home she was denied fried fish in favour of her older brother. It would indeed take someone of very low intelligence and bleak awareness of south Indian current affairs to not realise that the AMMA skit was a direct potshot at the WCC.

Press meet video

Gulf News interview

Mohanlal finishes his answer about the skit by saying, “If you are very particular, then we will try to bring out a skit this time?”, to which Manjusha responds sharply and promptly by saying, “A more gender-neutral one, perhaps”. 

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