What’s the story of ‘The Kerala Story’?
The narrative of this drama follows the journey of four women – played by actresses Adah Sharma, Yogita Bihani, Sonia Balani and Siddhi Idnani – who are converted to Islam and are lured into joining the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). ‘The Kerala Story’ has an undertone of love jihad in the narrative. It were these factors that fuelled allegations from political quarters that ‘The Kerala Story’ vilifies Muslims and peddles Islamophobia.
The controversial surrounding ‘The Kerala Story’ began soon after the film’s trailer was released in April 2023. The first big jibe came from the CM of the state of Kerala, where this film is set.
Allegations of the film being Sangh Parivar propaganda
Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan expressed his displeasure towards the film’s trailer, calling it ‘Sangh Parivar propaganda’. He said in a statement, “This bogus story is a product of the Sangh Parivar’s lie factory.” He alleged that the Sangh Parivar was trying to gain political advantage in Kerala with such a ‘propaganda’ film which featured alienation of Muslims. He also accused the Sangh Parivar of trying to destroy the religious harmony in the state by “sowing poisonous seeds of communalism”.
Congress too opposed the screening of the movie stating that freedom of expression was not a ‘license to spew venom in the society’. The makers – director Sudipto Sen and producer Vipul Shah also faced allegations of their film having factual inaccuracies.
The first CHANGE
Amid this controversy, the makers tweaked the film’s trailer just days before its theatrical release. The altered description of ‘The Kerala Story’ announced that the film was based on the ‘true stories of three young girls from different parts of Kerala’, as opposed to their previous claims which suggested that the film was based on the stories of more than 32,000 Kerala women who had been radicalised by Islamic fundamentalists.
Trauma and drama for ‘The Kerala Story’ snowballed after its release! In just two days of its theatrical arrival, the film was removed from screens in Tamil Nadu. Reason being? There was a law and order situation amid growing threats of damaging theatres and protests against the movie. However, Tamil Nadu Theatre and Multiplex Owners Association president, M Subramaniam painted a different story to PTI, “The film was only shown in a few multiplexes owned by pan-India groups, mostly PVR. Locally-owned multiplexes had already decided not to show the film, as it did not have any popular stars. In Coimbatore, for instance, there were two shows so far – one on Friday and one on Saturday. Even those did not do well. Given that, theatres decided that it was not worth going through the threat of protests and such.”
West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee called ‘The Kerala Story’ a distorted movie and declared a state-wide ban of the same. Her statement read, “This (ban) is to avoid any incident of hatred and violence, and to maintain peace in the state. Why did they make The Kashmir Files? To humiliate one section… What is The Kerala Story? If they can prepare The Kashmir Files to condemn the Kashmiri people… now they are defaming Kerala. Next, they will make ‘The Bengal Files’.”
Acceptance in UP and MP through Tax-Free status
A completely opposite reaction was unfolding in other states! Madhya Pradesh CM Shivraj Singh Chouhan reviewed ‘The Kerala Story’ positively calling it a movie that ‘exposed the horrific truth of terrorism’. He declared the film tax-free in MP on May 6, just a day after its release. Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath advocated a similar move and even mingled with the film’s team.
The makers were quick to approach the Supreme Court, challenging the ban on ‘The Kerala Story’ in West Bengal and the “de facto” ban in Tamil Nadu. Senior advocate Harish Salve is representing the makers in a plea before a bench presided by Chief Justice of India (CJI) DY Chandrachud. The matter will be heard on May 15. Director Sudipto Sen and producer Vipul Shah are putting in every effort to make sure this ban gets lifted!
What is the nation’s mood?
While few are singing paeans for the movie, others are leveling counter opinions. However, the biggest parameter of the success for a movie is its box office success and in the case of ‘The Kerala Story’, the cash registers are ringing loud. With no starry might or a big budget appeal, ‘The Kerala Story’ has still achieved a historic feat of earning Rs 66 crore in just 6 days! Whatever the controversy may be, the producers are happily laughing all the way to the bank.