With less than 24 hours to go for the controversial movie The Kerala Story to hit the screens, the distributor of the movie says there is “no divide as such” over the screening of the movie in the state, but most exhibitors have adopted a “wait and watch” strategy.
Speaking to South First, Mukesh R Mehta of E4 Entertainment, the firm distributing the film in Kerala, said: “It is too early to say the exact numbers of screens that would be exhibiting the film in Kerala. However, there is no divide among the exhibitors in Kerala over screening of the movie since it has been cleared by the censor board.”
“While the Kerala government itself has urged everyone to boycott the film, the exhibitors have adopted a ‘wait and watch’ strategy.”
The film, dubbed as “Sangh Parivar propaganda” by Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, seeks to portray Kerala as a fertile ground for religious conversions and recruitment to the Islamic State.
The film’s teaser initially said it was about “32,000 women” who were converted to Islam in the state and sent to Syria and Afghanistan. After widespread anger in Kerala, the figure was pared down to the story of “three women”.
‘About 30 screens’
Film distributor Mehta said that, in the current scenario, he foresees around 30 screens showing the film in Kerala.
“It also depends on the response of the audience. If audiences respond positively after watching the film, then the number of screenings could go up,” he said.
E4 Entertainment is also distributing another film, Virupaksha, in Kerala this week, with 40-plus screens confirmed so far. A Telugu film, Virupaksha was released on 21 April, and the Hindi, Tamil and Malayalam versions are set for release on 5 May.
‘A’ certificate, 10 cuts
The Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC), or the censor board, on Tuesday gave the green signal for the screening of The Kerala Story with an ‘A’ certificate and some 10 scenes cut.
These scenes include the a controversial press conference by former chief minister VS Achuthanandan which, his supporters say, has been taken out of context.
The censor board also ordered the deletion of dialogues referring to “the United States funding terrorists via Pakistan”, and “Communist Party not allowing Hindus to perform their rituals”.
A premiere of the movie was held in Kochi on Wednesday. According to sources, the movie has a documentary style.
No space for new films
Even though The Kerala Story has created a buzz, theatres in Kerala are finding it difficult to accommodate the movie.
Ponniyin Selvan 2, Pachuvum Athbutha Vilakkum, Madanolsavam, and Sulaikha Manzil are having a good run at the theatres. Theatre owners are reluctant to spare space as it will affect their business.
“We have a good collection for Ponniyin Selvan 2, Pachuvum Athbutha Vilakkum and Sulaikha Manzil. On 6 May, new films such as 2018, Anuragam, and Guardians of the Galaxy are getting released,” said a theatre owner on condition of anonymity.
He also added that Sulaikha Manzil and Pachuvum Athbutha Vilakkum have had good box office collections in Kozhikode and Malappuram districts, and theatres won’t change these films.
He was responding to whether theatre owners would exhibit The Kerala Story in these areas where the Muslim population is high.
Sulaikha Manzil has been getting good audiences in Malappuram and Kozhikode districts as the movie deals with weddings set in Muslim background.
Movies of other languages also doing well
Ponniyin Selvan 2 has collected over ₹10 crore at the Kerala box office. Theatres around the state have seen good collections as the movie is also running in Malayalam. Fahad Faasil’s Pachuvum Athbutha Vilakkum also has earned around ₹4 crore at the box office.
— ForumKeralam (@Forumkeralam2) May 3, 2023
Just another movie
“We have shows in our theatre for The Kerala Story. It’s just another movie for us. There is no agenda behind it. We have been getting enquiries about the show times,” said Vinod Iyer, partner of Crown Theatre in Kozhikode.
He also said that he is finding it difficult to accommodate The Kerala Story as Guardians of the Galaxy is releasing on Friday and the previous week’s releases — Sisu, Ponniyin Selvan 2, and even John Wick — have recorded good collections.
However, a source close to the movie industry said that most of the theatres in Malappuram won’t be showing The Kerala Story as Sulaikha Manzil is running strong. He didn’t say anything about the controversial elements in the movie.
Banning is futile
The Film Exhibitors United Organisation of Kerala (FEUOK) had stated that banning a film is futile since viewers can still watch it on OTT platforms.
Kerala Chief Minister Vijayan and Opposition leader V.D Satheeshan had spoken against the movie on their social media accounts.
The Kerala government has called for a boycott of The Kerala Story because a ban on the screening is impractical. The government has decided to go ahead with a campaign to boycott the film.
The Department of Cultural Affairs had planned to seek legal advice to explore the possibility of a ban. But the state government decided against it.
However, some top CPI(M) leaders reportedly had suggested a ban on the movie.
Meanwhile, the makers of the movie have altered their claim that 32,000 women from Kerala have joined the IS.
According to the new description. The Kerala Story is a compilation of the true stories of three young girls from different parts of the state.