Malayalee expats will return home to a new Kerala, says Mohanlal

Mohanlal, Kerala, NRI, return, Covid-19, coronavirus

The actor spoke to us post the release of a music single that welcomes expatriates returning to Kerala amidst the Covid-19 pandemic.

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By Dhanusha Gokulan

Published: Sun 7 Jun 2020, 5:10 PM

Last updated: Mon 8 Jun 2020, 1:19 PM

Returning non-resident Keralites are coming home to a new reality, and they must gear up for the challenges that lie ahead, advised Malayalam film star and Padma Bhushan awardee Mohanlal. "Gone are the times when returning NRIs would come back, buy plots of land and build homes. That's not how things are now. They are coming back to a new reality. It is time for people to accept that," he added.

The Malayalam superstar released a brand new single titled It is time for Kerala, a song that welcomes expatriates who are returning to Kerala due to the coronavirus pandemic. The song released on June 3. In the UAE alone, thousands of stranded Malayalees have flown back through the Vande Bharat Missions, an initiative to repatriate Indians by their government.

With Mohanlal being the patron of the musical initiative, artists KS Chithra, Manju Warrier, Remya Nambeesan, Manoj K Jayan, Madhu Balakrishnan, and Ashokan have also lent their vocals and support to the initiative. Sharreth directed the song with lyrics from Dr Cheravalli Sasi.

Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan also announced the release of the song during one of his daily Covid-19 press briefings. The purpose of the song is to educate returning Malayalees to the 'new realities' and lifestyles that Kerala has adopted since the outbreak, commented Vijayan.

Mohanlal uses his celebrity for a good cause; the song promotes the possibility of launching new sustainable industries in a post-pandemic Kerala. Speaking to City Times from his Chennai home, shortly after the song's release, the veteran actor said the pandemic had deeply impacted even the cinema industry. "With collaborative efforts and hard work, we can achieve a new, better quality of life. In this situation, negativity is not the answer," he said.

Here are a few excerpts from our chat with the actor:

Why did you decide to launch It is time for Kerala?

The Middle East is a place where I have several beautiful memories that have been developed over the past 38 years. I have lived in the UAE for a while as well. It is a place I am very fond of, and a significant chunk of Malayalees living abroad live in the Middle East. When the idea for the song was proposed, I thought it would be good.

See, the state of mind of someone who gets stuck in a foreign country is a difficult one. All the NRIs who wish to return to their homes in Kerala are going through a rough patch. We all feel the same way when we stay away from home for an extended period. When the idea for the song was floated, I realised it would be a good time for such a message to be imparted to those returning.

Rebuilding Kerala's economy through sustainable means seems to be the focus of the song. Any reason for picking this theme?

Everything begins with economic stability. I'm sorry to say, in Kerala, there are not those many industries. We have very few trades. That said, there is immense potential in Kerala. With everything that has happened, those returning are not coming into hopelessness, but there are a lot of possibilities. We have enjoyed a lot of financial help from the Middle East for many years now.

But today, for those who are returning, they are undergoing several difficulties and job losses. Many are coming in a state of panic. They must realise they are coming back to a different reality and must gear up for it. The place we love has changed a lot. Earlier, when NRIs returned, they would buy land and build homes. But that's not how things are now, they are coming back to a new reality, and more can be done. I want people to be optimistic.

Do you have any plans to charter a flight from the UAE to India, or pay towards the repatriation costs of Indians stuck abroad?

We do not have such thoughts to do something like that. These are best handled by government institutions and people with that kind of paraphernalia and expertise. The government is doing its bit. I don't see the point of getting into something where I do not know how to extend such support. I am an individual. But, through our social welfare organisation Vishwashanti, we are providing a lot of help to people impacted by the pandemic, especially those who need medical support.

How will the Malayalam cinema industry look post-pandemic?

It is not just the Malayalam film industry that has been impacted; it is India and world film industry as well. All trades, not just film, have suffered. Cinema is a massive industry with auxiliary sectors, and it is like an ocean. Unless there is a proper solution to the Covid-19 issue, it is going to be challenging to re-start cinema as it is a collaborative effort which requires work from a lot of people.

The entertainment business cannot be pursued by controlled means. We are facing a big challenge. A lot of movies I've been working on have stopped mid-way. But, I'm not thinking about that right now. We have to come forward to extend support to the several junior artists who have been devastated due to this. We hope for things to get better soon so everyone can start work again.

Have senior artists such as yourself, set up a support system for junior artists?

Through the Association of Malayalam Movie Artists (AMMA), we are extending our support to people in whatever way we can. The coming days are going to be difficult, but our association's strength has been realised, and more people willing to become part of the efforts have come forward.

What is your message to non-resident Keralites?

Whatever that is happening right now, is something no one can fathom. But, there has to be hope that everything will get better. It might seem like this collective punishment for all of humanity is something we do not deserve, but, I feel things will get corrected, and it requires discipline from people. We must look forward to using this as an opportunity to improve our quality of life and change the way we function as a race. Negativity is not an answer.

What did you do during the lockdown?

I didn't do anything special. I am not someone who finds it challenging to be in solitude, and I did not face any problem. But, a lot of people who work with me have undergone several difficulties and sadness due to this catastrophe. Today, we are moving with it, and my primary focus has been to support people in whatever way I can. I didn't perceive this as a holiday; people would say I read books and watched movies, but that is something I do anyway.

Every night, I sleep with the hope that the next day when I wake up, I would get greeted with positive news that would benefit humanity as a whole.

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