A special screening of The Kerala Story was announced by the movie’s producer Vipul Shah on Saturday, 20 May, at the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), Pune.
The screening — arranged with the intention to “understand the viewpoints of the students” — appears to have been completely rejected by the students of the institute.
There were also many attendees who came from outside, who shouted slogans like “Jai Sri Ram” and slogans against so-called “Love Jihad”.
The Kerala Story initially claimed that over 32,000 women from Kerala were converted to Islam and taken to join the ISIS. Challenged in court, the filmmakers changed their claim to three women. The film has since been allowed to be screened by the Supreme Court, but with the disclaimer that it is largely fiction.
Dismissed as “Sangh Parivar propaganda” by Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, the film evoked widespread ire in Kerala for its “wrong portrayal” of the state.
Opposed for a different reason
The FTII students opposed the screening of the film, citing that the “film is a part of the growing trend to amplify stories that stoke the ruling dispensation’s Hindutva-nationalist agenda.”
The students raised slogans like “Hate Story Murdabad” to counter the slogans of the people who were part of the saffron outfits.
BJP leader and Maharashtra’s Higher Education Minister Chandrakant Patil was expected to attend the event but he was not present during the screening.
Pune City Police were deployed inside the campus during the screening of the film.
We intended peaceful protest: FTII students
According to the students, they intended a peaceful protest, but the sloganeering by the attendees who came from outside provoked the students.
“We placed placards and raised the slogans. These slogans were not provocative. But the situation changed when the people who arrived to attend the screening — including actor-writer Yogesh Soman — raised slogans like ‘Jai Sri Ram’ and slogans against ‘Love Jihad’,” Abhinand, a student of FTII, told South First.
As the sloganeering provoked the students, the representatives of the students sought to either have the screening called off or the people involved in the sloganeering be asked to leave the campus.
According to students, the police forced two individuals to leave the campus, but many others remained inside the movie theatre. The police did not yield to the students’ demands to call off the screening as it was the institute administration who rented the main theatre to the Mitee Film Society.
“As people like Yogesh Soman have close contacts with people in power, the police couldn’t ask them to leave the campus,” said Abhinand. The students then shouted slogans and played the drums close to the theatre, which disturbed the screening.
Following this, a few men arrived with the police and while questioning students, one of them grabbed the collar of a student named Adnan. This led to a further tussle between the students and the organisers.
Interested to understand student’s viewpoint: Producer
Earlier in the day, the makers of The Kerala Story announced that a special screening of the movie will be held for the students of the FTII.
Directed by Sudipto Sen, The Kerala Story depicts how women from Kerala were allegedly forced to convert and were recruited by the terror group Islamic State (IS). It is produced by Vipul Shah’s Sunshine Pictures.
“We are very excited to meet our own people there. This is the future of the industry that is getting ready in FTII. It would be very interesting and exciting to see how they are looking at The Kerala Story and what they think of it. What they have understood and their viewpoint, which is the future’s viewpoint. It is going to be fun,” Shah said in a statement.
Student community uninformed: FTIISA
The FTIISA, the students’ association of the institute, released a statement on Saturday, 20 May, prior to the screening of the film. In the statement, FTIISA said the student community was not informed about the screening.
“A special screening of The Kerala Story by the director Sudipto Sen is to be held in our institute today, on 20 May 2023. It is organised by the film society Mitee, after renting out the main theatre space from our institute. The core crew is set to present the film here, with important dignitaries such as ministers from the Legislative Assembly of Maharashtra and higher-rank police officers in attendance. Minister Chandrakant Patil is the special invitee for this event,” read the statement.
The statement was signed by FTIISA President Mankap Nokwoham. General Secretary Sayantan Chakrabarti also said that the institute administration possibly concealed the details about the screening of the film to avoid protests.
“But protest against it, we must, for we believe it is our student community’s duty to denounce the vile propaganda that this film aims to unfurl,” the statement read.
FTIISA said that the stories depicted in the film are false and they present a wrong picture about the state of affairs the movie claims to have researched. It said that the film’s promotions have been obvious in their aim to encourage and reinforce Islamophobia and, hence, also the hate crimes emerging from it.
The statement further stated that it is plainly visible that the film is a part of the growing trend to amplify stories that stoke the ruling dispensation’s Hindutva-nationalist agenda.
“Unsurprisingly, the prime minister, along with other ministers, have gone on to praise the film in the recent past, with some states declaring it tax free. It is plainly visible for all that this is nothing but part of the growing trend to amplify stories that stoke the ruling dispensation’s Hindudva-nationalist agenda,” continued the statement.
“We firmly stand against such state-backed propagation of Islamophobia in our institute. The screening of the film is all set to be celebrated by ministers and three hundred other people in attendance. We do not believe that our institute and our main theatre, where we learn and where we thrive as students, are the right place for such a celebration. Neither the propaganda in the film, nor the harm caused by it to our society can go unchecked,” read the statement.
FTII turned into a laboratory: Alumni
Ajayan Adatt, an former student of FTII and a noted sound editor in the Hindi, Malayalam, and Tamil movie industries, spoke to South First.
Ajayan, who is at a shooting location, has been receiving numerous calls from former students who are concerned about the safety of the present batch of students on campus.
Ajayan was one of the student leaders who led the FTII protest against actor Gajendra Chauhan’s appointment as head of FTII by the BJP-ruled Union government. According to him, the Centre has been viewing the institute as a laboratory to experiment on students.
“After the 2015 strike in the institute, they have been seeing the campus as a laboratory and they have placed pro-RSS staff similar to what they have done at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU). In the name of screening The Kerala Story, they are trying to bring extreme right-wing groups into the campus,” alleged Ajayan.
He recalled an instance when he was a student at FTII, when he was attacked by RSS workers for screening the national award-winning documentary Jai Bhim Comrade. “Now they want a propaganda film against the state of Kerala to be screened on that campus,” Ajayan said derisively.
He alleged extreme right-wing groups like Sanatan Sanstha, which had a role to play in the murder of social activist and rationalist Narendra Dabholkar, are actively doing their part to saffronise the institution.
“I remember people like Vinod Tawde, who was jailed for the murder of Narendra Dabholkar, came to the institute premises the day after the murder and gave a speech. If these criminals were outside the campus then, now they have intruded into our campus,” alleged Ajayan.
Alumni will stand with the students
Ajayan said that alumni living in different states are trying to book tickets to reach Pune and those who are around Maharashtra are already on their way to the institute.
He said the alumni will not silently tolerate the onslaught against the students by “Hindutva forces”.
“If these extreme right-wing forces are moving ahead with such kind of activities with students of our campus, it won’t take us much time to march to the campus. Academy award winners and national award winners will be part of that march and it won’t be good for the administration,” the former student said.
The Kerala Story
The movie, which has polarised the political discourse in the country, was released in theatres on 5 May.
The West Bengal government had imposed a ban on the film on 8 May, apprehending tensions among the communities. Theatres in Tamil Nadu had decided to stop its screening from 7 May onwards, citing the law-and-order situation and a poor audience turnout.
On Thursday, the Supreme Court stayed the West Bengal government’s order banning the film in the state and asked the Tamil Nadu government to run the film while ensuring the safety of the moviegoers.
The Kerala Story stars Adah Sharma in the lead, along with actors Yogita Bihani, Sonia Balani, and Siddhi Idnani. Shah also serves as the creative director and the co-writer of the film.
The movie has so far earned over ₹150 crore at the domestic box office.