Mamata bans “The Kerala Story” in West Bengal, critics call it a morale booster for the BJP

The West Bengal government banned the film "The Kerala Story", promoted by the BJP, in the state, sparking a slugfest with the saffron party.

The Kerala Story banned in West Bengal

The film “The Kerala Story” has been banned by the West Bengal government, Chief Minister Mamata Bandopadhyay informed the press on Monday, May 8th. The film, criticised by many as a Hindutva-driven Islamophobic propaganda film, was running in a few theatres in the state.

Directed by Sudipto Sen and produced by Vipul Amrutlal Shah, the film narrates a fictional tale of thousands of Christian and Hindu women from Kerala lured by Muslim men to marry them and convert to Islam. The film alleges that these women were taken to the Middle East and recruited by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS or Daesh) terrorists.

Declaring her government’s decision to ban the film, Bandopadhyay said, “What is The Kashmir files? It is to humiliate one section. What is The Kerala story?… It is a distorted story”. She said her government wants to avoid any incident of hatred and violence and wants to maintain peace in society.

However, none in West Bengal demanded a ban on the film. No organisation has started any movement against the film, which the Kerala High Court had refused to ban earlier citing that it’s a work of fiction.

To avoid a ban, Sen added a disclaimer to the film and changed the number of women he alleged to have joined ISIS from Kerala to 32 from 32,000 initially shown in the first promo of “The Kerala Story”.

India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has promoted “The Kerala Story”, allegedly due to the film’s Islamophobic narrative. Critics say the BJP’s desperation in promoting the film stems from the fact that it has not gained any success in Kerala’s politics so far.

Even Prime Minister Narendra Modi has promoted the film. Kerala’s ruling Communist Party of India (Marxist) claimed that the prime minister has all time to promote a propaganda film while remaining mum on the government data on the 40,000 women who have gone missing from his home state, BJP-ruled Gujarat.

According to a study by the London School of Economics, up to 41,490 foreigners joined ISIS until July 2018. Out of them, 4,761 were women and 4,640 were minors. According to the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation (ICSR), six to eight women have joined ISIS from India, with the total number of people who joined the terror outfits estimated between 67 and 75.

Shah has threatened to file a case against Bandopadhyay’s decision after his film collected over Rs 350m in the first three days of its release. He said that he will check out the provisions of the law and fight the decision.

On the other hand, the Theatre and Multiplex Owners Association (TMOA) in Tamil Nadu has decided to pull down “The Kerala Story” from theatres due to low turnout. The organisation claimed that the decision is due to the low business from the film, which is made especially for a north Indian audience.

“The film was only shown in a few multiplexes owned by pan-India groups, mostly PVR. Locally-owned multiplexes had already decided not to show the film, as it did not have any popular stars. In Coimbatore for instance, there were two shows so far – one on Friday and one on Saturday. Even those did not do well. Given that, theatres decided that it was not worth going through the threat of protests and such”, Tiruppur Subramaniam, the president of the TMOA told news agency PTI.

Political experts fear that Bandopadhyay’s decision to ban “The Kerala Story” in West Bengal will help the BJP in polarising the masses. Supporters of the left in the state said that the decision will end up helping the BJP in stoking communalism using a mediocre film that could have died a natural and unnoticed death in a handful of theatres anyways.

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