He may be Kerala’s greatest living actor, but when Mohanlal tried to mix fact with fiction and portray in real life that he was a 1971 war hero, he seemed to have gone too far. For a 45-day period stretching from December 1, 2010 to January 15, 2011, during the Grand Kerala Shopping Festival, Mohanlal appeared in a series of print and TV advertisements in army uniform, wearing an impressive array of medals and badges that mark him as a 1971 war hero, an NSG commando, a gallantry medal awardee, and the recipient of a commendation card from the army chief.
The ads also featured Amitabh Bachchan. Incidentally, Mohanlal and Bachchan were co-stars in Kandahar, a film that released in the same month. The film was made by Mohanlal’s own production house, Ashirwad Films. Guess what role Mohanlal played in Kandahar? A brave army officer and a commando.
Well, all this would have been fine but for the fact that Mohanlal had been appointed as an honorary officer in the Territorial Army by the ministry of defence in 2009. He is therefore bound by strict rules and regulations that bar him from misusing or misrepresenting his uniform. According to sources in South Block, upset army officials now want to strip him of his rank permanently.
The advertisement was noticed by a retired army officer, Brigadier CP Joshi, while on a trip to Ooty. “I was appalled to see a man who has been honoured by the Indian Army pull off something this cheap, putting on medals he clearly does not deserve. How can he claim that he took part in the 1971 war, or is qualified to make parachute jumps, or is a NSG commando,” asks a furious Joshi. “We live and die for it. How can somebody so cynically use it for commercial gain?”
Apparently, not only has Mohanlal broken the law that prohibits him from putting on medals he has not been awarded, he has also indulged in an unethical practice, deeply embarrassing army headquarters. “We gave him the uniform to give bring greater focus on the Indian Army. But he has used it for selfish commercial purposes, to portray himself as a decorated officer when he has never been awarded a medal. We are now planning to propose that his rank and uniform be taken away,” a senior army officer told DNA on condition of anonymity. According to him, “he can only use his army uniform in an advertisement to motivate youngsters to join the army. But even that requires special permission from the office of the army chief after following procedures.” The ad campaign was the outcome of a sponsorship deal between the tourism ministry of the Kerala government and Mohanlal’s Ashirwad Films, according to which the later was paid Rs50 lakh for promoting the Grand Kerala Shopping Festival (held fromDec 1, 2010-Jan 15, 2011) for a period of 45 days. “The GKSF had a sponsorship deal with Ashirwad Films owned by Mohanlal. While they publicised the 45-day shopping festival through newspapers, billboards and TV channels, we in GKSF distributed tickets of the movie Kandahar produced by them,” said KN Sathish, founder director of GKSF, who recently took over as district collector, Kasargod.
In retrospect, it appears that Mohanlal saw an opportunity to not only make some money, but also promote his latest film, which, sadly for him, bombed at the box office. But the advertisement did not have any disclosure stating that his picture in it was from a film, and most people assumed that he was sporting medals awarded to him by the ministry of defense. Under section 419 of the Indian Penal Code, such impersonation is illegal and he can be prosecuted for identity theft or fraud.
Mohanlal remained unavailable despite several attempts to contact him. His office told DNA
that he was traveling abroad and could not be contacted.