Controversial Film “The Kerala Story” Sparks Outrage and Divides India

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The release of the film “The Kerala Story,” which claims to depict the stories of Hindu and Christian women who joined the Islamic State (IS) group, has ignited a massive controversy in India. The movie, set in the southern state of Kerala, has faced criticism from opposition politicians, who label it as propaganda aimed at disrupting religious harmony.

While the film has received poor reviews from mainstream critics, who condemn its performances and lack of nuance, it has enjoyed extraordinary success at the box office considering its small budget and absence of big stars. Analyst Taran Adarsh estimates that it has earned over 560 million rupees ($6.8 million) in just five days, a remarkable achievement for a new release.

“The Kerala Story” draws parallels with last year’s polarizing hit movie, “The Kashmir Files,” which also garnered praise from Prime Minister Narendra Modi and other leaders of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Both films were made on modest budgets, lacked prominent stars, and received middling reviews.

Controversy surrounding “The Kerala Story” began months before its release, with calls for its ban from politicians in Kerala who deemed its teaser as misleading. The teaser claimed to depict the stories of 32,000 females from Kerala who had joined IS, a figure debunked by fact-checking website Alt News. Indian officials have stated that the number of women from Kerala who joined IS is considerably lower, and the filmmakers maintain that the movie is based on true events and extensive research.

The film faced legal challenges and mounting criticism leading up to its release. The Kerala high court refused to block its release, but the filmmakers agreed to remove the contentious figure of 32,000 women from the teaser and changed its description on YouTube to focus on the true stories of three young girls from Kerala.

While the film has received support from BJP leaders, who view it as addressing an important issue, it has also been accused of demonizing Muslims and perpetuating Islamophobia. Multiplex owners in Tamil Nadu have decided to stop screening the film due to protests and low attendance, and the state of West Bengal, governed by the Trinamool Congress, has banned it citing potential risks to peace and order.

The ban has sparked criticism from filmmakers and some BJP leaders, with a petition against the ban set to be heard by India’s Supreme Court. Social media campaigns highlighting religious harmony in Kerala, such as #MyKeralaStory and #RealKeralaStory, have emerged in response to the film.

Despite the controversy, analysts believe that films like “The Kerala Story” are unlikely to have a significant political impact, as they primarily resonate with those who already support their messages. The film’s release coincides with a heated election campaign in Karnataka, the only southern state where the BJP holds power.

While the film’s success at the box office may be noteworthy, its divisive nature and allegations of promoting hatred and communal polarization have further fueled the ongoing debate on the intersection of politics, religion, and cinema in India.