I Attended The Screening Of ‘The Kerala Story’ In JNU. This Is How It Went.

Sharan Setty

May 03, 2023, 07:05 PM | Updated May 05, 2023, 10:00 AM IST

A hoarding of 'The Kerala Story' placed in front of the JNU convention centre.
A hoarding of 'The Kerala Story' placed in front of the JNU convention centre.
  • The movie is slated for release on Friday, 5 May.
  • “I was physically assaulted by the Left for screening my film on ‘Love Jihad’”, an emotional Sudipto Sen told me two years ago.

    Since then, Sen has kept himself occupied in the world of political cinema.

    His latest project, The Kerala Story, featuring Hasee Toh Phasee star Adah Sharma, is already mired in what many would call needless controversy. 

    The promotional material for the film claims that is depicts the plight of forced conversions, human trafficking and sexual slavery carried out by Islamist organisations in countries such as Syria and Afghanistan.

    Filmmakers, artists and political leaders belonging to the Left and the Indian National Congress (INC), including the likes of Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan have dubbed the movie as ‘propaganda’.

    Towards the end of 2022, when Goa hosted the International Film Festival of India (IFFI), Sen found himself in a precarious position when the jury head Nadav Lapid calledThe Kashmir Files’ a propaganda movie. 

    Fast forward to May 2023, Sen himself is battling the media and the Leftist establishment once again for making a claim that nearly 32,000 women were trafficked from Kerala by the Islamists to Afghanistan and other regions. Since then, a team led by advocate Kapil Sibal have knocked on the doorsteps of the Supreme Court seeking a ban on the film. 

    The film was screened as a part of a preview yesterday, 2 May, at the convention centre in Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), amid threats by the Students’ Federation of India (SFI) calling for protests against the same.

    The hall was full, with students being seated on either side of the aisle.

    The security was on alert, but some of the personnel also stood at the rear end of the auditorium, curiously glancing at the contents of the film. The screen, no bigger than the ones used in the classrooms, was packed with tension at both ends as the ABVP and SFI cadres stood attentively at either side, watching the movie. 

    Speaking about the screening in JNU, The Kerala Files' director Sudipto Sen, told Swarajya that "JNU is the metaphor of the concept of India. Metaphor of an argumentative India. Having the first official screening of the film there, we honored our film. The enthusiasm, the adulation, the praises we are showered with post screening - that was unprecedented...that was surreal... that was the vindication of our hard work."

    Although no violence was reported from the venue of the screening, Sen faces a stiff political and a legal battle as prominent voices who are speaking against the movie are gaining traction. ‘Fact-checking’ websites have called out Sen for using ‘flawed math, imaginary figures’ to portray the issue.

    Dr. Shashi Tharoor, Thiruvananthapuram’s Lok Sabha representative, has defended the right of expression and free speech, but has also expressed his support to the voices that are critical of the movie. After the controversy, the film’s description has changed from the story of '32,000 women' to 'three women'. 

    Speaking to Swarajya, Ankesh Bhati, the convenor of Vivekananda Vichar Manch said, "(The) Left has a legacy of suppressing opposing voices especially when it comes to their ruling state. They protest against books, lectures, movies or anything which is not according to their so called 'views'. So it's not new for us in the campus, I'm witnessing it from last two years now. It’s a very important premiere for us because it bursts the anti-India Jihadi-Communist nexus and show us the truth which was hard hidden for so long.

    Through the screening of “The Kerala Story” we intend to enlighten the nation, particularly women, about the real side of the story, the reality of their barbarism against women and humanity, and JNU is a land of debate and discussion, so it was basically a step to bring this issue of honey-trapping, forceful conversion, women trafficking and exploitation to the main stream. It is a small effort on our part to save innocent Indian women and Kerala-god’s own country from the evils of Jihadi-Communist nexus."

    The movie has initiated a narrative war in Kerala, as the establishment in the state has begun to undermine social issues like love jihad. 

    "Grooming jihad is almost like an epidemic in India. The number of such cases is truly alarming. Good to see movies becoming a medium to make people aware about this. In fact it's a wider national and international issue. The UK, for example, also faces the same problem. Governments and media cannot claim to be unaware anymore", said Kamal Madishetty, a third year PhD student in JNU's School of International Studies.

    The commercial success of The Kashmir Files has encouraged more filmmakers to touch upon sensitive subjects that were once considered a taboo by the film fraternity in India.

    Whether the movie will resonate with a pan-Indian audience and become a box office hit (or not) is a question that will be answered by the audience soon.

    Sharan Setty (Sharan K A) is an Associate Editor at Swarajya. He tweets at @sharansetty2.

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