The Bollywood film The Kerala Story has been in the eye of controversies ever since its teaser was released on YouTube last November.
The film, starring Adah Sharma, is now scheduled for release in cinemas on 5 May.
The movie’s trailer, released on Wednesday, 26 April, depicts the story of a woman named Shalini Unnikrishnan, who wants to become a nurse but gets trafficked by a terrorist outfit called the Islamic State (IS) group.
So far, the trailer has received over 9.4 million views on YouTube.
According to the trailer, “the film is inspired by many true stories”.
The movie’s teaser released on YouTube on 3 November claimed 32,000 women were converted to Islam and recruited by the IS group.
According to the filmmakers, The Kerala Story — written and directed by Sudipto Sen — “unearths” the events behind “approximately 32,000 women” going missing in the southern state.
They were allegedly converted, radicalised, and deployed in terror missions in India and across the world.
Lies and canards: John Brittas
On Friday, Rajya Sabha member from Kerala John Brittas yet again raised the issue in a tweet.
“Kerala is a land full of literacy, hard work, capability and intellect..”- this what PM said other day . Whereas,his followers are active in promoting The Kerala Story which is full of lies & canards intending to denigrate Kerala. Had earlier written to take appropriate action.. pic.twitter.com/R5GZTAzXGO
— John Brittas (@JohnBrittas) April 28, 2023
He also posted a letter which he said he had sent to Union Home Minister Amit Shah last year when the movie’s teaser was released.
“The teaser claims to be depicting the story of 32,000 women from Kerala, who were radicalised to join the ISIS terrorist group, which is rubbish and fallacious,” he said.
“Such dissemination of grossly false information may lead to inconceivable repercussions and unrest in the society and the same will amount to defaming the state as well. This false narrative is being massively spread over social media,” he told Shah.
The letter also stated that the “impulsive teaser” had sown the seeds of distrust among various sections of people in the state as well as in the country.
Brittas also alleged that the teaser misquoted two former chief ministers. He said it could not be considered accidental and was a conscious effort to defame Kerala and polarise society.
Brittas concluded the letter by saying that the blatant abuse of the freedom of expression to spread canards and induce violence were “ghastly despicable acts”, that warranted prompt action.
What the ex-CMs said
The Kerala Story director Sudipto Sen said in an interview in 2021 that he arrived at the figure of 32,000 based on a statement by former chief minister Oommen Chandy.
Chandy in 2012 said 2,667 women in the state had converted to Islam.
Sen claimed in the interview that Chandy said approximately 2,800-3,200 girls had converted to Islam, so he calculated that it would add up to 32,000 in 10 years.
The former chief minister had not mentioned an annual figure.
The other chief minister who Sen appears to have misquoted was VS Achuthanandan.
He claimed that Achuthanandan, “who was the chief minister at the time”, told reporters in Delhi in 2005 that the IS group had hatched a sinister plan to convert Kerala into the hub of the organisation.
Incidentally, CPI(M) veteran Achuthanandan was the chief minister from 2006 to 2011.
In fact, he held a news conference in July 2010 where he made a controversial statement about the now-banned Popular Front of India (PFI).
“The PFI was trying to multiply Muslim numbers in the state by influencing the youth of other religions and converting them by giving money, marrying them to Muslim women and thus producing kids of the community,” Achuthanandan said.
Opposition seeks action
The Congress, meanwhile, urged the state government to act against the screening of the movie.
On Friday, Leader of Opposition VD Satheesan urged the state government not to give permission to screen the controversial movie, as it aimed to create “communal divisions in society through false claims”.
Satheesan rejected the claims of the movie’s makers and said it was clear that the intention of the film was to tarnish the image of Kerala at the international level.
“Permission should not be given to screen the film that falsely claims that 32,000 women in Kerala were converted to Islam and became members of ISIS,” the Congress leader said.
The trailer of the film itself tells what the movie is trying to say, said Satheesan in a statement.
“This is not an issue of freedom of expression but part of an attempt to implement the Sangh Parivar agenda of creating division in the society by casting aspersions on the minority groups,” he said.
“No one should think that Kerala can be divided by spewing the poison of communalism,” he said adding that the state would stand united — as has been its tradition — against this “deliberate move to foster religious rivalry”.
Youth organisations join protest
All India Youth Federation (AIYF), the youth outfit of the CPI, sought a ban on the exhibition of the film.
Speaking to South First, the AIYF’s Kerala State Committee secretary TT Jismon called the movie “an attempt to create a communal riot in Kerala”.
He said: “The claims made in the movie are not backed by facts. They are trying to make a blatant lie appear as the truth. The movie is a planned attempt to break the religious harmony existing in Kerala.”
He said although he and his organisation always stood up for the freedom of speech and expression, it was also important to stand up against false propaganda and divisive forces.
He also appealed to the Union government to withdraw permission to exhibit the film.
“If the Union government fail to do so, the state government should ensure interfere in the situation and take appropriate action” he added.
The Democratic Youth Federation of India (DYFI), the youth wing of the ruling CPI(M), also lashed out against the film and said its trailer itself hurt religious sentiments.
In a Facebook post, the DYFI alleged that the medium of cinema was being misused by the makers of the movie to create communal divisions in society and to tarnish the image of the state.
The Left outfit also sought stern action against the film.
The general secretary of the Muslim Youth League, PK Firos, also criticised the portrayal of Muslims in the film’s trailer and called it a propaganda film.
“In the trailer of the movie, there is a false allegation that Muslims — especially from Kerala — were working politically to establish an Islamic state in India,” he said in his Facebook post.
Even the Supreme Court had rejected the claims of love jihad, he added.
He said it was a serious allegation that more than 33,000 Hindu women from Kerala were seduced and converted to induct them into terrorism.
He further asked whether anyone would believe that Muslims who had faith in religious teachings would indulge in acts like seduction tactics, which are prohibited by Islam.
No large-scale IS recruitment: Kerala Police
In November last year, soon after The Kerala Story teaser was released, Chennai-based journalist Aravindakshan R wrote to Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan urging him to initiate action against the film unless the makers produced relevant supportive documents to back their claim.
The journalist in an interview with South First said he felt the teaser was made to misrepresent Kerala’s image.
Thiruvananthapuram Police Commissioner Sparjan Kumar, probing the issue based on a directive by the state police chief Anil Kant, told South First that an FIR was not filed as the state government received merely a letter, which was not an official complaint.
He added that the police did not have any information on large-scale recruitment to IS, as claimed in the teaser.
However, the police refrained from taking further action against the makers of The Kerala Story after receiving legal advice.
The film’s writer-director Sudipto Sen’s earlier movies are Aasma (2018), Lucknow Times (2015), and The Last Monk (2006).
The Kerala Story is backed by Sunshine Pictures Private Limited, founded by Vipul Amrutlal Shah, who serves as the producer, creative director, and co-writer of the film.
(With PTI inputs)