Director Sudipto Sen’s movie The Kerala Story is facing heavy criticism ahead of its release on May 5, 2023. The film, which sheds light on the alleged conversion of thousands of Hindu women in Kerala to Islam has been at the centre of controversy ever since its teaser was released in November 2022.
The trailer, released on April 26, 2023, furthered the criticism around it.
The movie’s critics have called it 'propaganda' by the 'Sangh Parivar', a term used to refer to organisations that work under the Hindu right-wing organisation, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). Critics are of the opinion that The Kerala Story is made with the aim of 'destroying the communal harmony of Kerala'.
The latest politician to take a jibe at the movie is Congress leader Shashi Tharoor. Sharing the poster of the movie, the Congress MP wrote, “It may be your Kerala story. It is not our Kerala story.”
It may be *your* Kerala story. It is not *our* Kerala story. pic.twitter.com/Y9PTWrNZuL— Shashi Tharoor (@ShashiTharoor) April 30, 2023
Kerala CM Pinarayi Vijayan has also slammed the movie ahead of its release, saying that the makers have raised the issue of 'love jihad' in the movie, a claim that has been rejected by courts, probe agencies, and the Union Home Ministry.
In a statement to the media, Kerala CM Vijayan said that the trailer of the movie appears to be 'deliberately produced with the alleged aim of creating communal polarisation and spreading hate propaganda against the state'.
The central plot of the movie is what has been behind the flak it has been receiving. The trailer of the movie shows a Hindu girl, named Shalini Unnkrishnan, being brainwashed and lured into Islam by her Muslim friends, who convert her into Islam and she is given a new name, Fatima Ba.
Fatima’s character, which is being played by Adah Sharma, makes a statement that not only she, but there are nearly 32,000 girls in Kerala who have been converted into Islam and sent to Syria, Yemen and Afghanistan to join the terror organisation ISIS - the Islamic State.
The movie raises strong concerns on the alleged religious indoctrination in the state of Kerala, and how Hindu and Christian women are apparently being targeted by radical Islamic clerics who convert them to Islam, and their subsequent relocation to ISIS in Afghanistan, Yemen and Syria, to fight for the cause of Islam.
The movie claims to unearth the whereabouts of the 32,000 women who went missing from the state of Kerala.
The number '32,000' is what critics have been contesting.
So far, there has been no comprehensive backing of the number - 32,000 - by any government data or any agency that says that these many women were converted to Islam and trafficked to the ISIS in Syria or Yemen.
In March 2022, director Sudipto Sen said that the number 32,000 is not his but is 'based on a Times of India report'. However, there is no such TOI report available on Internet with that number.
In an interview to the YouTube channel 'The Festival of Bharat', Sen said that he came to this number following a report tabled by former Kerala CM Oomen Chandy in 2010, where Chandy had said that every year, 2,800-3,200 girls are taking up Islam.
“Just calculate it for the following years; and the number is 32,000,” Sudipto said.
In another interview with a YouTube channel The New Indian, producer Vipul Amritlal Shah and director Sudipto Sen said that they were expecting criticisms of 'propaganda' and allegations of 'having taken money from so-and-so to make the movie'.
In an interview with India Today, Director Sudipto Sen said that he has been working on this subject since 2014 and that this figure of 32,000 will be explained once the viewers watch the movie.
Producer Vipul Amrutal Shah, speaking on the controversy around the figure of 32,000, said that he is sad that the whole debate is down to this number. "We did not realise that this whole debate would be around 32,000 and we feel sad about it," Vipul said.
He said that even if the number were much lesser, it doesn't matter because the discussion should be on the human tragedy of the girls.
According to a 2012 India Today report, former Kerala CM Oomen Chandy had placed a report in the state Assembly that said
The report does not mention anything about the women joining ISIS. Chandy had in fact said in the state Assembly that there was no evidence of forced conversions in the state and that fear about 'love jihad' were baseless, “We will not allow forcible conversions. Nor will we allow the spread of hate campaigns against Muslims in the name of 'Love Jihad'.”
A journalist from Kerala, Arvindakshan BR, asked for an inquiry and asked the filmmakers to produce evidence of the number quoted in the movie.
In an interview to BBC, Arvindakshan BR said, “Some cases have happened, but 32,000 is an unbelievable number.”
The movie The Kerala Story by Sudipto Sen follows the same pattern that director Vivek Agnihotri’s The Kashmir Files did.
The Kashmir Files, which was based on the 1990 exodus of Kashmiri Pandits from the state, driven out by Muslim extremists, was a huge success and found acceptance with a large section of the audience.
Produced by Vipul Amrutal Shah, The Kerala Story is all set to release on May 5, 2023.