'The Kerala Story', released on 5 May, has been banned in West Bengal and Tamil Nadu, with even calls for the film producer to be “hanged in public”.
Indian Hindi-language film The Kerala Story is continuing to court controversy, with India's West Bengal state banning Sudipto Sen’s film days after its release.
The film follows the story of four women from Kerala who converted to Islam and joined the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Its teaser trailer caused a stir last year, as it made the controversial claim that 32,000 girls were “converted” into Islamic terrorists.
While the film is captioned as being based on a real-life incident and the makers of the film state it is based on years of research, The Kerala Story has been criticized for its lack of statistical evidence.
This has triggered a political controversy in Kerala, as congress party leader VD Satheesan called it a "clear case of misinformation" and claimed that the film was made to "tarnish the image of Kerala". Lawmaker of Kerala's governing Communist Party of India (Marxist) John Brittas even wrote a letter to federal home minister Amit Shah, asking him to take stringent action against the filmmakers.
In response to the allegations, the co-writer / producer, Vipul Amrutlal Shah stated that "nothing we say will be without evidence" and that the co-writer / director Sudipto Sen had conducted four years of research for the film.
Nevertheless, critics have called it out for promoting the Islamophobic Love Jihad (or Romeo Jihad) conspiracy theory, which purports that Muslim men target Hindu women for conversion to Islam by means as seduction and marriage, and said that The Kerala Story has the potential to incite violence.
Now, the Chief Minister of West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee announced a ban on the movie, preventing theatres in the state from screening the film. Banerjee later said that the decision was taken to maintain peace in the state and prevent any incidents of violence or hate crime.
An association of multiplex owners in Tamil Nadu state have also said that they would stop screening the film - citing law and order issues and poor public response.
In reaction to the screening ban, Shah stated that "if state governments won't listen to us, we will take legal action.”
Politician Jitendra Awhad, member of the Nationalist Congress Party, stated that The Kerala Story is not based on facts, is right to be banned from screens, and went as far as to say that the producer should be "hanged in public."
A shocking assertion (and the death of irony), considering that the film is being accused of inciting hatred and violence.
The Kerala High Court previously refused to stay the release and said the trailer does not contain anything offensive to any particular community as a whole. It also noted that the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) had examined the movie and found it suitable for public exhibition.
Politicians from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP - the ruling political party in India under Prime Minister Narendra Modi) have criticised the move, choosing to back the film. Two state governments - Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, both governed by the BJP – have announced that they have made the film tax-free.
Prime Minister Modi recently praised the film during an election rally in Karnataka state on Friday 5 May, stating that it tried to "expose the consequences of terrorism in a society".
"Such a beautiful state of the country, where people are hardworking and talented," said Modi. "The Kerala Story film brings out terror conspiracies happening in that state.''
Writer-producer Shah said the film has become of national importance now.
''Our honourable PM has spoken about this film,” said Shah. “Other important political parties have talked about the film and have presented this subject as something of national importance. There are some people who have supported and some have opposed. Now no one can ignore it on the national level, which is a huge achievement for us.”