SC seeks responses from Tamil Nadu, West Bengal on plea challenging ban on ‘The Kerala Story’

The bench also asked the Tamil Nadu government to specify measures taken to provide adequate security to theatres screening the movie.

BySouth First Desk

Published May 12, 2023 | 5:55 PMUpdatedMay 12, 2023 | 5:56 PM

The Kerala Story Supreme Court

A Supreme Court bench comprising Chief Justice DY Chandrachud and Justice PS Narasimha sought replies from the West Bengal and Tamil Nadu governments on a plea of the producers of The Kerala Story challenging the ban in the two states.

The bench, on Friday, 12 May, questioned the West Bengal government, saying the film is being screened in the rest of the country without any problem and there appears to be no reason for the ban.

Review: ‘The Kerala Story’ depicts a Kerala that is unfamiliar to most Malayalis

‘Running elsewhere’

“The movie is running in the rest of the country, including in states having similar demographic composition, and nothing has happened. This has nothing to do with the artistic value of the film. If people do not like the movie, they will not watch the movie,” the bench told senior advocate Abhishek Singhvi, appearing for the West Bengal government.

Singhvi said according to intelligence inputs, there may be a situation of law and order problem and peace among different communities may be breached.

The bench also asked the Tamil Nadu government to specify measures taken to provide adequate security to theatres screening The Kerala Story.

“The state government cannot say that it will look the other way when theatres are attacked and chairs are being burnt,” the bench told advocate Amit Anand Tiwari, appearing for the Tamil Nadu government, after he submitted that there is no ban on the movie.

Related: Why the real Kerala story is mostly about love, and not so much jihad

‘De facto ban in Tamil Nadu’

Senior advocate Harish Salve, appearing for producers of the movie, said there is a de facto ban in Tamil Nadu as theatres screening the movie are being threatened and they have dropped the screenings.

“For West Bengal, we are seeking quashing of the ban order,” he said.

“We are issuing notices to both the states and they may file their response by Wednesday. We will take up the matter on Thursday,” the bench said.

On 5 May, the day the film was scheduled to be released, the Kerala High Court refused a stay on the movie and said its trailer did not contain anything offensive to any particular community as a whole.

The high court noted the producers’ submission that they do not intend to retain an “offending teaser” which contained a statement that “32,000 women” from Kerala were converted and joined the IS group.

The court said the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) has examined the movie and found it suitable for public exhibition.

The high court also noted that the producers have published a disclaimer along with the movie which specifically says it is fictionalised and a dramatised version of events and that the film doesn’t claim accuracy or factuality of historic events.

Related: Theatres in TN stop screening citing ‘lack of interest’ from people

32,000 women to three women

The filmmakers changed the teaser from “32,000 women” who were converted and recruited by ISIS, to “three women”.

Meanwhile, The Kerala Story was made tax-free in Uttar Pradesh.

Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath announced it on Tuesday, prompting the Opposition Samajwadi Party to say the state government should not use cinema and literature to impose a “poisonous agenda on the nation”.

The announcement comes days after the Madhya Pradesh government said it will give tax-free status to the film, while West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee ordered an immediate ban on its screening.

In Tamil Nadu, multiplexes cancelled screenings of the controversial film on 7 May.

UP BJP secretary Abhijat Mishra, on 6 May, organised the screening of the controversial film for about 100 college girls.

Related: ‘The Kerala Story’ is making money elsewhere

‘To prevent love jihad’

The BJP leader booked a theatre and said the movie should be shown to young women to prevent them from falling prey to the so-called “love jihad”, a discredited idea.

“Love jihad” is a term often used by right-wing activists to allege a ploy by Muslim men to lure Hindu women into religious conversion through marriage.

Mishra said the movie is based on true events and shows how gullible girls are manipulated and then converted.

In Karnataka, where Prime Minister Modi endorsed the movie saying that it speaks about the reality in Kerala, BJP president JP Nadda attended a special screening organised in Bengaluru on 7 May.

On the day of its release, at Thiruvananthapuram’s Aries Plus, two shows were held with the “houseful” board hanging on its gate. The board went missing after the two shows.

Theatre staff later explained that the two shows were organised by Thapasya, the cultural wing of BJP in Kerala, for its members and some of the fellow travellers of the Sangh Parivar.

RSS pracharak S Sethumadhavan, BJP state secretary P Sudheer and noted film producer G Suresh Kumar were among those who viewed the film. The screening was free. Thapasya met the expenses.

(With PTI inputs)