After the controversy it had courted with the release of its teaser in November 2022, The Kerala Story is in the news again.
The trailer of the feature film – directed by Sudipto Sen and produced by Vipul Amrutlal Shah – that came out last week showed Shalini Unnikrishnan (Adah Sharma) falling prey to a supposed nexus of religious conversion and being shipped off to Syria to join the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
But several Malayalis on Twitter say that this isn't their story.
From Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and Congress leader and MP Shashi Tharoor to members of the civil society, reactions against the movie have flooded social media. There have also been calls for a ban on the film.
On Tuesday, 2 May, the Supreme Court, however, refused to entertain a plea by advocate Nizam Pasha, who sought a stay on the release of The Kerala Story.
Though Pasha argued the movie was the "worst kind of hate speech," the court said that if he wanted to challenge the movie, "you should challenge the certification and through appropriate forum."
The Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind also moved the Supreme Court on Tuesday seeking a stay on the movie's release, stating it may cause "hatred and enmity between different sections of society." The SC declined to entertain the plea, but granted the petitioner the liberty to move the high court.
'Not Calling for a Ban': Shashi Tharoor
One of the major concerns of those opposing the film is its unsubstantiated claim that it is based on the "true stories of 32,0000 women who were forcefully converted and recruited by the ISIS."
On Sunday, 30 April, MP Shashi Tharoor tweeted a poster of the film, set to release on 5 May, saying: "It may be *your* Kerala story. It is not *our* Kerala story."
Later, he clarified that he was not calling for a ban on the film. "Freedom of expression does not cease to be valuable just because it can be misused. But Keralites have every right to say loud & clear that this is a misrepresentation of our reality [sic]."
It may be noted that the Congress, CPM youth wing DYFI, and Youth League of the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) on Friday, 28 April, had demanded a ban on the movie's screening in state.
While many users on Twitter called for a ban, others said that it would hamper the makers' freedom of speech. Actor Chetan Ahimsa, who was recently arrested in Karnataka for "hurting Hindu sentiments," tweeted:
"While I have refused to act in movies that demonise community/gender in past, I don't believe a state shud ban a cinema—that has received censor board permission—on ideological grounds. Freedom of expression is must [sic]."
'Sangh's Factory of Lies': CM Pinarayi Vijayan
Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, in a Facebook post on Sunday, 30 April, said that the film was a product of the Sangh Parivar's "factory of lies."
"A glance at the trailer gives the impression that the movie was deliberately produced with the aim of communal polarisation and spreading hate propaganda against Kerala," the post said.
He found fault with the film for placing Kerala, "the land of secularism, as the centre of religious extremism."
"Propaganda films and the othering of Muslims should be viewed in the context of various efforts made by the Sangh Parivar to gain an advantage in electoral politics in Kerala."The Chief Minister, in a Facebook Post
Many leaders of the ruling CPM party also took to social media to show their dissent. Former Finance Minister of Kerala Thomas Isaac tweeted, "This is not our story. Kerala story is one of religious tolerance and secularism [sic]."
CPM leader and Rajya Sabha MP John Brittas, meanwhile, tweeted a representation he had a made to Union Information and Broadcasting Minister Anurag Thakur earlier, seeking action.
He said: "'Kerala is a land full of literacy, hard work, capability and intellect...'- this what PM said other day. Whereas, his followers are active in promoting The Kerala Story which is full of lies & canards intending to denigrate Kerala [sic]."
IUML's Rs 1 Crore Challenge
The Youth League of the IUML, meanwhile, had a novel way to resist the alleged propaganda in the film. On Monday, 1 May, they issued a cash reward of Rs 1 crore to anyone who proves "the allegations that 32000 Keralites converted and fled to Syria."
They said the "challenge" was valid till 4 May, and that they have set up evidence collection counters in all districts of Kerala.
On similar lines, a man named Nazeer Hussain Kizhakkedath on Monday, 1 May, offered Rs 10 lakh to anyone who can share the names and addressed of the women who were converted to Islam and sold off to the ISIS.
Some users on Twitter also noted how The Kerala Story's trailer "did not resemble Kerala," remarking that it was made for an audience whose sensibilities align with the Hindu right-wing.
SR Praveen, a journalist, tweeted: "The target audience of #keralastory are not Malayalis, but the vast mass of people up north, for whom the fake claims made in the movie would be familiar from the constant propaganda about Kerala they get through godi media and saffron whatsapp groups [sic]."