Gandhian hangover for whisky-ad star

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By JOHN MARY in Thiruvananthapuram
  • Published 15.02.07

Thiruvananthapuram, Feb. 15: Trouble is brewing for Kerala superstar Mohanlal, who plays Thakur in Ram Gopal Varma ki Sholay, after he appeared in ads endorsing a south Indian whisky brand.

The surrogate TV ads, billboards and hoardings feature Mohanlal asking the question: “What’s up this evening?” The actor munches banana chips, a favourite snack with tipplers, and hurls the rhetorical question at whoever he meets on his evening walk.

But what has enraged prohibitionists and invited curious responses from people are billboards inside hotels with bars that show the actor, wearing a cap and dinner suit, at a table with a filled glass, a plate full of banana chips and a bottle of the branded whisky. The caption reads: “Our evening programme.”

That apparently sums up the logic behind the series of campaigns, first with surrogate ads and finally with the “revelatory” hoarding inside hotels.

The Mahatma Gandhi National Foundation, an NGO based in Kottayam, has sent a protest note to the parents, wife and children of the superstar with a counter-question: “Would you like to see a tipsy Mohanlal sauntering home every evening?”

The note urges them to dissuade the actor from promoting the sale and consumption of alcohol.

NGO chairman Eby J. Jose says the explicit advertisements in hotels will land the superstar in trouble since direct or indirect advertisement of liquor brands is not permitted under the Kerala Prohibition Act 13 (Section 11) 1950.

Mohanlal, who was shooting in Kochi, could not be contacted on phone.

However, the actor had said in Bangalore recently that those who campaigned against his advertisement should rather do something to clean up the garbage accumulating on the roads in the state.

Besides, why should he be singled out when so many other Indian actors were undertaking such endorsements on TV, he had asked in response to questions from reporters. “Aren’t you aware that several stars do such ads?”

The Kerala State Road Transport Corporation, which allowed the surrogate ads on its fleet, has ordered them to be taken off following complaints by the Mahatma Gandhi National Foundation.

Jose says a popular actor should have a commitment towards people. Mohanlal, a recipient of the Padma Shri, should set an example in upholding the Constitution.

Article 47 of the Directive Principles of State Policy reads: “The state shall endeavour to bring about prohibition of the consumption, except for medicinal purposes, of intoxicating drinks and of drugs which are injurious to health.”

Therefore, Mohanlal should return the award if he is not able to do justice to the Constitution, Jose says.

He claims the advertisement has helped increase sales of the product, manufactured by a Karnataka distillery owned by a Keralite, who is the son of a former minister.

“We can only guess the deep impact his inviting poser will leave on the minds of youths,” says Jose.