'The Kerala Story', which hit cinemas worldwide recently, has triggered a debate over its divisive subject matter. While leading artists like Shabana Azmi have spoken out in its favour, there have been those who are strongly critical of the film.
In a social media interaction organised by diaspora organisation , the film’s director Sudipto Sen spoke at length about the work that went into the film and stressed that victim testimony is a significant aspect of the research around the social issues highlighted in the film. Sen shared how after encountering a 19-year-old girl who was tormented and forcibly converted to Islam, he was prompted to explore more such cases – which went on to form the crux of ‘The Kerala Story’.
"The 19-year-old little girl has been manipulated into getting married, and when the whole scheme of taking her to Syria got exposed to her, she showed the courage to come back and reconvert. But then the burned her house down and started tormenting her in every way possible," Sen said.
Following this, the director said he was inspired to explore more and discovered several other testimonies as he delved deeper.
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"After more than two years, I met hundreds of girls and have logged hours of their narrations. One interesting finding is that these young girls are from families in Kerala, which are not very religious. So there's this pattern: girls from such families are getting adopted into these conversion rackets and easily manipulated," said Sen.
"After a point of time, I slowly started exploring the psychological aspects of why these girls let themselves get converted and get into a burqa. I realised that there's this strong method of alienating them from their families. The indoctrination process parallelly goes with the alienation of their families," Sen claimed.
According to the film’s impact adviser Priya Samant, many cause-based narratives are being made in India, with several good actors, but because they don't have the “big stars” of Bollywood, these films do not get the they deserve.
"This topic is very relevant to what is happening in the global society. If, through the power of cinema, we can bring those narratives to light and have ideas in action, then our is served," she said.
While West Bengal has declared a ban on the film’s screening, stating the film incited violence and social hazard, a number of other states such as Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh have granted the film tax-free status.
Indian Minister of Information and Broadcasting and Youth Affairs and Sports, Anurag Thakur, said: "‘The Kerala Story’ is not just a film. There are some people who want to lure girls into the path of terrorism, and their face has been exposed in this film.
“Some political parties oppose it. If they are protesting, then they support PFI, , and ISIS."
On her decision to ban the film, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee noted: "It is to avoid any incident of hatred and violence, and maintain peace in the state."
'The Kerala Story' stars Adah Sharma, Yogita Bihani, Siddhi Idnani and Sonia Balani in lead roles.