Critically Analyzing Contrasting Narratives: The Reel vs Real Kerala Story

The film 'The Kerala Story' has generated a wave of polemics, with Congress leader and Thiruvananthapuram MP Shashi Tharoor stating that "It may be your Kerala story. It is not our Kerala story".
Critically Analyzing Contrasting Narratives: The Reel vs Real Kerala Story

The film 'The Kerala Story' has received substantial attention due to its contentious subject matter and narratives, resulting in a divided audience. 

While there are those, including the Prime Minister and many BJP leaders whose remarks have encouraged moviegoers to watch the film, others have vehemently criticized it, labeling it an "agenda movie" with the intent of targeting a state that has been at the forefront of economic empowerment, social justice, and the empowerment of women and marginalized groups. 

The BJP-led Centre has been accused of giving Kerala step-motherly treatment, with reduced Central share for programs and a lack of financial aid during floods, according to an old report by the Indian Express.

Many believe that true essence of Kerala lies in its people who possess strong willpower and can coexist in peace despite differences in culture and religion. Kerala is a resilient state that fought back strongly during the devastating floods of 2018 and emerged victorious. 

The film 'The Kerala Story'  generated a wave of polemics, with Congress leader and Thiruvananthapuram  MP Shashi Tharoor stating that "It may be your Kerala story. It is not our Kerala story". Some sections of the public have drawn comparisons between 'The Kerala Story' and  'The Kashmir Files', a movie released barely a year ago which was a portrayal of the planned killings of Kashmiri Pandits in 1990. The movie was considered to be greatly distorted and inflammatory. Following criticism over the content and messaging of the film, the teaser of 'The Kerala Story' on YouTube was modified to tone down its language. The original teaser had referred to "heartbreaking and gut-wrenching stories of 32,000 females in Kerala", which was changed to "true stories of three young girls from Kerala".

Even after the movie release on May 5, the controversy surrounding it continues to divide opinions, with some calling for a boycott of the film and others urging viewers to judge it for themselves.In light of this, The Mooknayak endeavors to present both the reel Kerala Story and the Real Kerala Story, as elucidated by reputable sources and credible individuals.

The SC's refusal to intervene

The film claims that approximately 32,000 women were converted to Islam in the state over a period of time, and raises concerns over the rise of radicalisation and the exploitation of vulnerable women in the region. There have been allegations of exaggeration prompting debates around the authenticity of the numbers presented in the film. Following the release of the film's trailer, a petition was filed in the Supreme Court seeking a stay on its release. The petitioners argued that the film was promoting hate speech and audio-visual propaganda aimed at inciting communal hatred. They claimed that the film's content was factually incorrect and had the potential to sow seeds of communal discord in society.

However, the Supreme Court refused to halt the release of the film, stating that freedom of speech and expression is a fundamental right and it was up to the audience to decide whether or not to watch the film. The court also observed that the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) was the appropriate authority to decide on the issue of the film's release, and it was for the CBFC to determine whether the film violated any guidelines or laws.

The release of 'The Kerala Story' has been met with mixed reactions, with some welcoming the film's focus on a sensitive issue, while others have criticized it for promoting a divisive agenda. The controversy surrounding the film has yet again highlighted the challenges of navigating sensitive issues in a diverse society like India.

The 'Reel' Kerala Story

Directed by Sudipto Sen and produced by Vipul Amrutlal Shah, the movie hit theaters on May 5. Featuring Adah Sharma, Yogita Bihani, Siddhi Idnani, and Sonia Balani in the lead, 'The Kerala Story' has become a highly talked-about topic among movie enthusiasts. 'The Kerala Story' centers around the issue of forced religious conversion, and highlights the alleged conversion of thousands of women in Kerala to Islam, with many being taken to ISIS-ruled Syria during the height of the terror group's power. Adah Sharma plays the character of Fathima Ba, a Hindu Malayali nurse who went missing from Kerala and was forcibly converted to Islam before being recruited to join the terrorist group ISIS. Amid the escalating criticism, the director of 'The Kerala Story', Sudipto Sen, and the producer, Vipul Amrutlal Shah, have maintained that the film is based on true events, and have stood by their claim that 32,000 women in Kerala had been forcibly converted to Islam. Vipul Shah, in a statement to news agency PTI, stated that they were not willing to compromise on the facts presented in the film and that they had conducted extensive research to ensure the accuracy of their claims.

Film result of 7-years research: Director

Director Sudipto Sen has claimed in an interview with ET that he had enough research material to support the claims made in 'The Kerala Story'. According to Sen, he had gathered hundreds of hours of video testimonies and hundreds of pages of documents, which he used to develop the storyline of the film.

Sen also revealed that he had shot a documentary on the same subject in 2018 which won the Best Film Award at the London International Film Festival, and that 'The Kerala Story' took shape from there. In the same interview with ET,  Sen clarified that he had started working on 'The Kerala Story' much before 'The Kashmir Files', and that there was no reason to compare the two films. According to Sen, his film dealt with terrorism and had nothing to do with religion, and that he had a completely different narrative approach.

Impact outside Kerala

MP: In Madhya Pradesh, the BJP-led government has made the controversial film "The Kerala Story" tax-free. Additionally, the state BJP is organizing free film screenings and distributing tickets for free to draw more audiences to the theaters. 

TN: Multiplexes in Tamil Nadu have canceled screenings of the controversial film "The Kerala Story" citing poor turnout and law and order concerns. The movie is known to be endorsed by Hindutva groups, but it has drawn widespread criticism from several political parties and Muslim groups. Political parties in Tamil Nadu, like the Naam Tamilar Katchi, have warned that they would lay siege to cinema halls if the film continues to be screened. 

Rajasthan: In Jodhpur city, a man was beaten and threatened for sharing favorable reviews of the film "The Kerala Story" on his social media account. As per police reports, the man had put WhatsApp status urging young women to watch the movie. The victim, a member of the Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP), lodged a complaint at the Maha Mandir police station on May 7, against three individuals involved in the incident.

West Bengal: The West Bengal govt has decided to ban the movie 'The Kerala Story'. This is to avoid any incident of hatred and violence, and to maintain peace in the state, CM Mamata Banerjee said.

Debunking the claims

Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan  slammed the makers of 'The Kerala Story', alleging that it is a product of the ' Sangha Parivar's ' lie factory. He accused the film of falsely portraying the state as a place where people are being forcefully converted to Islam, and argued that such content could lead to communal disharmony.

Vijayan said it is part of a deliberate effort to perpetuate false allegations of "love jihad" that have been repeatedly dismissed by investigating agencies, courts, and even the Union Home Ministry. Speaking about the film, Vijayan accused the Sangh Parivar of attempting to disrupt the peaceful religious harmony in Kerala and spread communal hatred. The Youth Muslim League reportedly offered a reward of 1 crore to anyone who could prove that 32 thousand women were forcibly converted to Islam and sent to Syria.

Makers misquoted statements of formers CMs: Binoy

CPI's Rajya Sabha MP Binoy Viswam had written to Union Information and Broadcasting Minister Anurag Thakur, opposing the release of the film "The Kerala Story" based on the conspiracy theory of "love jihad". He also referred to the Home Ministry's statement in February 2020 that no "love jihad" cases have been reported. 

According to Viswam, the film intentionally misquotes and misinterprets statements made by former Chief Ministers of Kerala, VS Achudananthan and Oommen Chandy, to push its narrative. The statement made by VS Achudananthan has been translated incorrectly to malign the Muslim community, he added.

Binoy wrote that former Chief Minister of Kerala, Oommen Chandy, never mentioned any annual figure of conversions or referred to women joining the ISIS terror group, or forced conversions.

Public Opinion

Journalist and critic Ashwini Kumar has given "The Kerala Story" a scathing review, calling it dangerously violent, hate-spreading, and provocative. He has given the film a rating of 0 stars and criticized the Censor Board of Film Certification for passing it with an A certificate, calling it deceitful and irresponsible. Kumar also expressed disappointment with the director Sudipto Sen for presenting the true events in a toxic manner and with producer and creative director Vipul Amrutlal Shah for backing such a project. 

Actor, producer and critic Kamal Rashid Khan in his twitter post wrote, " I have not yet seen #TheKeralaStory! But a critic told me: The film shows that ISIS has completely captured Kerala and about 32,000 girls are sent to ISIS fighters! If this is true, then it is a big failure of the Indian government and agencies that they could not stop ISIS in Kerala!

"Veteran actress Shabana Azmi took to Twitter on Monday to express her opinion on the controversy surrounding "The Kerala Story," stating that those who advocate for its ban are as misguided as those who sought to ban last year's release "Laal Singh Chaddha" starring Aamir Khan. Azmi suggested that once a film has been certified by the Central Board of Film Certification, no one should have the authority to serve as an "extra constitutional authority."

Statistics in support of the Real Kerala

In 2020,  Non Resident Keralites sent back 2.3 lakh crores to India, which accounted for 34% of all NRI remittances.

Kerala's per capita income is 60% higher than the national average.

Only 0.71% of people in Kerala are below the poverty line, while the national average is 22%.

Kerala's literacy rate is 96%, while the national average is 77%.

The infant mortality rate in Kerala is 6, while it's 40 in Assam, 41 in MP, and 46 in UP.

In Kerala, the sex ratio is 1084, the male literacy rate is 96.11%, and the female literacy rate is 92.07%.-  The population growth rate is 4.91%, and Kerala's share in the country's total population is 2.76%.

According to the Central Government's organization, NITI Aayog's Composite Development Index, Kerala has consistently ranked first.

Kerala's former health minister, KK Shailaja, was praised at the international level for her excellent management during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Kerala ranks first in essential facilities like education, healthcare, tourism, roads, and electricity.

Kerala is the first state to ensure social justice by providing reservation for priests in temples and guaranteeing a minimum support price for fruits and vegetables.

Centre's Step Motherly Treatment Towards Kerala

The Indian Express published a report in May 2021, based on inputs by CPI state secretary Kanam Rajendran, highlighting how the BJP-led Centre treated Kerala. Despite facing various hurdles, Kerala was able to succeed, demonstrating its ability to overcome obstacles. Here are some of the main points mentioned in the report:

The Central share for MGNREGA was reduced from Rs 158 crore to Rs 71 crore.2. Kerala's share was reduced from 0.91% to 0.61%.

The funds for Central programs were reduced by 35% during the NDA rule.

The fund for Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan decreased from Rs 413.43 crore to Rs 206 crore.

Kerala was excluded from the calamity fund list, despite facing two floods.

The state demanded Rs 2,101 crore, but only received Rs 52.27 crore in financial aid during the 2019 floods.

The Centre sanctioned only Rs 2,904 crore against the estimated loss of Rs 26,718 crore due to the 2018 flood.

The report says, the NDA government used Central agencies like NIA and CBI to tarnish the state government, but with the moral support of CPI, the LDF took a stand against these agencies. 

Call for accountability in film making process

While 'The Kashmir Files' and 'The Kerala Story' deal with different subjects, both films have been the subject of controversy for their alleged sensationalism and biased portrayal of events. Critics have accused both films of stoking communal tensions and spreading fake news, and have called for a more responsible and balanced approach to filmmaking.

The debate around these films highlights the importance of ethical and accountable filmmaking practices, including fact-checking, sensitivity to diverse viewpoints and communities, and responsible storytelling. Ultimately, it is up to filmmakers and the industry as a whole to take this responsibility seriously and ensure that their work does not fuel hatred or division in society.

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