‘The Kerala Story’ makers face a ₹1 crore challenge, as state unites against bid to tarnish its image

Muslim Youth League State General Secretary PK Firoz said the movie is aimed at non-Malayali audience, and it will not have any impact in Kerala.

BySreerag PS

Published May 01, 2023 | 2:26 PM Updated May 01, 2023 | 5:44 PM

The poster of The Kerala Story shared by Adv Shukkur on his Facebook. (Facebook)

“It may be *your* Kerala story. It is not *our* Kerala story,” tweeted senior Congress leader Shashi Tharoor.

The lawmaker representing Thiruvananthapuram in the Lok Sabha was referring to contradictive narratives about Kerala.

One, from the perspective of the followers of a particular ideology that is yet to get a toehold in the South Indian state, and second, Kerala, according to the people living in that state.

Come Friday, 5 May, these two narratives will clash in movie halls. One of them has generated much heat over the alleged misrepresentation of the state with unsubstantiated claims.

The other is a much-awaited one, narrating a particular episode each Malayali had gone through in the recent past — the 2018 flood that battered Kerala and made Keralites bereaved, helpless, resilient, and heroes in the face of adversity.

Jude Anthany Joseph-directed movie, 2018, was to hit the screens on 21 April but was postponed to 5 May. The movie with the tagline, Everyone is a Hero, reportedly celebrates love, unity, and humanity.

Coincidentally, The Kerala Story, written and directed by Sudipto Sen, is also set to release on the same date. Tharoor was referring to Sen’s narrative when he tweeted, “It is not our Kerala story.”

Tharoor’s tweet reflected the general perception in Kerala about the movie.

Sen’s Kerala 

The Kerala Story narrates the tale of four women, regular college students in Kerala, who became part of terror organisations.

Sen has been promoting the movie as one based on true incidents, in which “approximately 32,000 women” had gone “missing” from the southern state, and were then “forced to convert and recruited to the Islamic State”.

Sen and actress Adah Sharma, who plays Fathima Ba, a Hindu Malayali nurse, one among the “32,000 women who went missing from Kerala”, have been reiterating that the movie is about “life and death” — and not propaganda as many critics, including Malayalis, are asserting.

The director and actress now have an opportunity to prove that the movie is not a figment of imagination — or propaganda for a particular political outfit.

A ₹1 crore challenge

An organisation and an individual in Kerala have offered the film’s makers cash rewards if they could substantiate their claim with evidence.

The Muslim Youth League (MYL) has offered a reward of ₹1 crore to anyone who could provide evidence in support of Sen’s claims — that 32,000 women from the state went missing and were recruited by IS, It will also open “Evidence Collection Centres” in all 14 districts of Kerala.

“Take up the challenge and submit evidence,” MYL dared. The proof could be submitted at the centres between 11 am and 5 pm on Thursday, May 4.

On Monday, Tharoor tweeted MYL’s poster. He state that the youth organisation has offered “an opportunity for all those hyping the alleged conversions” to prove their case and make some money.

The parliamentarian further wondered if “they will be up to the challenge or is there simply no proof because none exists?”

 

Move to mislead non-Malayalis

MYL state general secretary PK Firoz is not amused.

MYL State General Secretary PK Firoz (Supplied)

He said there have been numerous instances of propaganda in the recent past against Kerala and Muslims living in the state.

“They say Kerala has been radicalised, claiming thousands have been joining the ISIS each year, love jihad is rampant in the state, etc… although a few individuals are opposing the claims, a hate campaign is dominating the narrative,” he told South First.

“We have come up with this campaign that if any kind of factual evidence is submitted regarding the claim, we will reward that individual ₹1 crore,” he explained.

He said the MYL campaign is an attempt to take on those spreading hate.

Firoz felt that The Kerala Story may not have any impact in Kerala. He said it is aimed at misleading non-Malayalis, especially those living in North India.

“People in Kerala are well aware that if they say 32,000 people go to Syria to join ISIS, it will make up to at least 30 people from a panchayat. Thus, I don’t think anyone would believe it and the claim will not have any impact in Kerala,” he continued.

Firoz said to combat the false narrative, MYL will distribute pamphlets in Hindi, English, and Urdu. It also has plans to publish them across the country.

“We have also decided to move legally. We will be filing a case against the movie in the coming days,” he added.

Related: Youth, political organisations intensify protests against ‘Kerala Story’

Lawyer offers ₹11 lakh reward

Lawyer and actor C Shukkur is popularly known as Shukkur Vakkeel, after the character he portrayed in the hit 2022 movie, Nna Thaan Case Kodu (Sue Me Then).

The poster of The Kerala Story shared by Adv Shukkur on his Facebook. (Facebook)

The poster of The Kerala Story shared by Adv Shukkur on his Facebook. (Facebook)

He later remarried his wife under the Special Marriage Act, 1954. The remarriage was to ensure that the couple’s wealth went to their daughters, not to the father’s brothers as envisaged in the Sharia — Islamic or Sacred Law.

Shukkur has made an offer to anyone who could substantiate Sen’s claims with evidence. However, he does not want evidence for the 32,000 converts.

“No need to produce proof for 32000 women, just 32 is enough,” he dared in a Facebook post.

He further said that three women — Merin, Sonia Sebastian, and Nimisha — “are the only reported cases to have joined ISIS from outside the Muslim community from Kerala.”

The three women went to Afghanistan’s Nangarhar province between 2016 and 2018. They, along with their children, surrendered to the police there after their husbands — including two brothers from Palakkad — were killed in the Afghan-US assault on the IS.

“Everyone should stop blaming a community and a state without any proof about the ‘love jihad’ case, which was dismissed even by the high court,” Shukkur said in the post.

Shukkur challenging the “Sangh Parivar propaganda movie” was unexpected — like the thousands of men and women who joined hands to help each other when torrential rains battered and almost drowned Kerala in 2018, the topic of Jude Anthany Joseph’s movie.

Also read: Allies, rivals decry Rahul Gandhi disqualification

Political rivals unite 

Bitter political rivals the — ruling LDF and opposition UDF — uniting is not new in Kerala. The state had witnessed it during the savage 2018 floods, and later against Governor Arif Mohammad Khan.

The LDF was quick to condemn the Lok Sabha Secretariat when it disqualified Wayanad MP and Congress leader Rahul Gandhi on 24 March.

Now, The Kerala Story has brought them together once again.

Both the CPI(M) and Congress have come on the same page to condemn the movie for peddling lies. The film falsely claims that the women converted, got radicalised, and were deployed for terror missions, the two major political parties said.

Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan on Sunday, 30 April, slammed the makers of the film, saying they were taking up the Sangh Parivar propaganda of projecting the state as a centre of religious extremism by raising the issue of so-called “love jihad” — something that was rejected by the courts, probe agencies, and the Union Home Ministry itself.

Vijayan also said the trailer of the Hindi film, at first glance, appeared to be “deliberately produced” to create communal polarisation and spread hate propaganda against the state.

A few days ago, the CPI(M) and the Congress hit out at the movie, saying freedom of expression is not a licence to spew venom, and the film is an attempt to destroy communal harmony.

The Congress urged the government not to allow the screening of the movie as it aimed at creating “communal divisions in society through false claims”.

Also read: Hindutva outfit forces Kerala temple to change colour 

Double standards, says BJP

The BJP questioned how claims of religious terrorism in Kerala could be interpreted as hate propaganda against the state.

BJP state president K Surendran said Vijayan and ruling CPI(M)’s claim that freedom of speech and expression cannot be a justification for using cinema to spread sectarianism and create divisions amounted to double standards.

He contended that the chief minister and the Left party leaders were not concerned over freedom of expression when it came to plays like Kitab or movies like The Kashmir Files.

The BBC’s controversial two-part documentary, India: The Modi Question, was widely screened in Kerala, despite the BJP-led central government forcing it off internet platforms.

No large-scale recruitment: Police

In November last, soon after The Kerala Story’s teaser was released, Chennai-based journalist Aravindakshan R wrote to Chief Minister Vijayan urging him to initiate action against the film unless the makers produced documents supporting their claim.

The journalist, in an interview with South First, said he felt the teaser was made to tarnish Kerala’s image.

Thiruvananthapuram Police Commissioner G 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, and 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 filmmakers after receiving legal advice.

(With PTI inputs)