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The Kerala Story: politically motivated criticism

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The Kerala Story: politically motivated criticism

Liberals have assailed the film ‘The Kerala Story’ variously as a propaganda film that thrives on shock value, ‘inflammatory’, ‘Islamophobic’ and ‘a polarising story’ etc. The reactions of the liberals are so predictable. The viewers dumped their rant in the dustbin and the film enjoyed a 52.92 per cent occupancy rate in the Hindi belt, with an impressive box office collection in just one week! The viewers reacted in exactly the same manner as in the case of the film ‘The Kashmir Files’.

The Kerala Story is not anti-islam or anti-muslim

The liberals are claiming that the film targets Islam or Muslims. It is simply their biased and politically motivated interpretation. They had done the same thing with the film The Kashmir Files also last year. Contrary to their baseless allegations and apprehensions, it did not generate any Islamophobia or revulsion against Islam per se nor there was any call against all the Muslims of the country. The maliciousness of the liberals stood disproved and exposed that very instant. The same argument applies to this film also.

To tell the truth, is not to instigate. Great films like Schindler’s List and The Diary of Anne Frank have been made on historical sins like the Holocaust, for example, and no German ever said that he had any problem with them. Looks like the liberals have never heard of the case of Sanjay Leela Bhansali & Ors vs State & Ors (2018—the Padmavat film controversy), when the Rajasthan High Court spoke of ‘artistic license’ and ‘poetic license’.

Sowmya Ramanathan’s claim in The Wire that the symbolism of the scene of a sheep being slaughtered is ‘an obvious attempt to vilify the Muslim community’ is ridiculous at the least and libellous at worst. Further, what is wrong in showing the characters speaking of nothing but religion day and night? Are we not used to watching innumerable Bollywood films exalting Muslims and Islam in which even dreaded Muslim gangsters are shown offering namaz five times a day or distributing charity to the destitute out of their proceeds of crime a la Robin Hood—in other words, the ‘essentially good at heart’ guy trope intended to at least dilute the criminality in their crimes if not whitewash altogether?

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Similarly, for a scene that depicts something similar to marital rape, her claim that ‘it is shocking only because of the religious identity of the husband’ in fact means that she wants a guarantee that no filmmaker should ever show any Muslim doing anything bad, wrong or criminal. This is outrageous. Shocking the viewers is an important aspect of filmmaking. The liberals had, in fact, heaped lavish praise on the deeply disturbing depiction of the rapes of Seema Biswas in the role of Phoolan Devi in the film Bandit Queen (1996) right from her childhood rape to her being paraded naked and raped by almost an entire village of upper caste Thakurs who were asserting their dominance. Why, because it eminently suited their cherished narrative of assailing the Hindu society for its caste structure. Hence, criticising The Kerala Story for ‘thriving on shock value’ is the worst form of chicanery.

In April 2022, political scholar and MP Vinay Sahasrabuddhe observed “The entire so-called progressive establishment stands guilty of treating issues concerning Muslims either emotionally or politically, instead of intellectually and on the grounds of reason and logic.”

Politically motivated criticism

As Prime Minister Modi pointed out during his electioneering in Karnataka, “The movie (The Kerala story) is trying to expose the consequences of terrorism in a society, especially in a state like Kerala which is the beautiful land of hardworking, talented and intellectual people.” He also lauded the film and said that it had tried to expose the new form of terrorism in society. “Terrorism has taken a new form now. Apart from using weapons and bombs, they are working towards making society hollow from the inside out. ‘The Kerala Story’ movie has exposed this new face of terrorism.”

Also Read: Who betrayed the Mahatma?

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That is a perfectly valid observation. However, reacting to this, Prem Shankar Jha wrote in The Wire, “Barely a year after the release of The Kashmir Files, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is again using another grossly incendiary film, The Kerala Story, to fan hatred of Indian Muslims in order to consolidate the “Hindu” vote and stay in power next year.” This is plain prejudice. In other words, he means to tell us that the Prime Minister’s opinion of something must be dictated by what the liberals think!

The ISIS connection cannot be denied

In December 2021, citing US State Department, Vicky Nanjappa reported that as many as 66 Indians were still alive and fighting against ISIS. Agencies maintain that 127 identified Indian Muslims had left for fighting for ISIS, mainly from Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Telangana, Maharashtra and Karnataka. Aishwarya Kumar has provided detailed case histories of several such persons including women from Kerala.

That the Indian Muslims’ participation in ISIS has been small in comparison to some 4,000 from the European Union countries, mainly, France, UK, Germany and Belgium, means little. It must be kept in mind that India was in a somewhat unique position, which presented practical difficulties in going there and fighting—not that we might not have had a sufficient number of persons willing to do so. First, India is not directly connected to Syria. Second, foreign travel from India is not as easy as compared to travel from European countries.

Films are not even supposed to be research papers

Liberals who are raking up the issue of factual accuracy in this film must know that a film is not even supposed to be a research paper or a government publication claiming authenticity. The makers never said that it is a documentary, did they?

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Films are meant for that section of the population, which does not read research papers. We have thousands of highly elaborate ancient Hindu religious texts and their translations. Except for researchers in that field, hardly anybody from the general population reads them. Films on religious topics, however, make a tremendous impact on those also who do not do a serious reading of religious texts. Precisely for this reason, the observation of Sowmya Ramanathan that ‘the film isn’t interested in understanding the whys and hows of that story’ is pointless. The film was never intended to be the ultimate thesis on the issue of conversions by adopting dubious means nor did it ever claim so. A film, by virtue of its intrinsic limitations, can afford to highlight only a limited aspect of any issue.

That is how the film ‘Jai Santoshi Mata’ (1975), made at a low budget of just Rs. 25 lahks or so, had broken all records in an era when the silver screen was dominated by action films featuring the imagery of the ‘angry young man’. People used to take off their footwear before entering the cinema halls. Flowers and money were showered on the screens. Whenever Anita Guha, who played the role of Santoshi Mata, appeared on screen, people used to stand up and do a pranam. A similar religious fervour was seen next when the TV serial Ramayan of Ramanand Sagar was aired in 1987. People used to take bath before they watched the serial. There are recorded instances when people have touched the feet of Arun Govil (who played the role of Bhagwan Ram) even now on railway platforms. Such films or serials did not invent or analyse religion for the people; however, they presented them in a manner that struck a chord in the collective heart.

Contrary to what the liberals had been harping upon, even in the case of The Kashmir Files, the real issue was not exactly how many Hindus were killed or how many Hindu women were raped? The real issue was that these crimes had indeed taken place and that the local Kashmiri Muslims had neither condemned the terrorists, nor ever provided information on them to the police, nor opposed them in any way. Their numbers are not important.

Similarly, in the case of The Kerala Story also, now that the controversy regarding the alleged figure of 32,000 women having been sent abroad after conversion has been laid to rest, the question is not about the numbers; the question is that even if one incident of that type has taken place, how the Muslim society in Kerala has had responded to it. Did they report it to the police? Did they condemn it at a social level? Did they identify and take any action against the persons responsible? Did they take any corrective measures in their community and outside involving other communities to ensure that such incidents do not take place again?

The liberals are not given a license to brush all such unsavoury things under the carpet claiming that they are aberrations. They had committed this very fraud in the case of the June 2022 horrific beheading of Kanhaiyalal in Udaipur also by two Muslim men—they condemned the murder but not the fact that the accused had done it in the name of religion and proclaimed so proudly in two videos posted on social media!

If they have a problem, they may go to court

The jitteriness and the nervousness of the liberals over this film is evident from the fact that they tried everything to stall the release of the film. They hired heavyweight lawyers and ran straight to the Supreme Court. They got snubbed there and were sent back to the High Court, where a stay order was declined.

Also Read: Is Kerala losing while UP gaining grip over the bureaucracy?

One must ask why they did so. They could not argue, even as a film duly cleared by the Censor Board was yet to be released, that the screening of the film would disturb law and order. Imaginary fears about the rise in communal temperature cannot and must not be allowed to prevent the truth from being told. Their desperation was evident from the fact that they requested the Supreme Court to order the makers of the film to prefix a disclaimer that the film was wholly fictional. That too was not accepted.

Obviously, it is either a case of a guilty conscience; touches a raw nerve somewhere; or both that rattled them so badly. Rushing to the Supreme Court was a tactical blunder that totally exposed the subconscious mind of the liberals and also how unfair they are in dealing with matters pertaining to Muslims.

Now that the film has been released, if they still have any grievance as mentioned above, they must go to the Court with the contents of the film and argue that it is inflammatory or promotes enmity between different communities. They are entitled to say that the film is far from the truth or a ‘bald-faced lie’. However, unless they can prove in a court that the content of the film actually violates Sections 295A, 153A, 505(2)(c), etc. of the IPC, wailing from public platforms that it is ‘incendiary’, ‘bigoted’, ‘inflammatory’, ‘insults a particular religion’, ‘anti-Muslim’ or ‘mixes dangerous fictionalised narratives with incidents drawn from reality’ makes them liable for defamation.

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Dr N C Asthana IPS (Retd)
Dr N C Asthana IPS (Retd)
Dr. N. C. Asthana, IPS (Retd) is a former DGP of Kerala and ADG BSF/CRPF. Of the 56 books that he has authored, 20 are on terrorism, counter-terrorism, defense, strategic studies, military science, and internal security, etc. They have been reviewed at very high levels in the world and are regularly cited for authority in the research works at some of the most prestigious professional institutions of the world such as the US Army Command & General Staff College and Frunze Military Academy, Russia. The views expressed are his own.


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