The Kerala Story, the controversial film that claims to tell stories of three women radicalised into joining terror group ISIS, has sharply divided public opinion and has triggered opposite responses from state governments.
The Yogi Adityanath government today announced that the movie will be made tax-free in Uttar Pradesh, a day after West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said the film will be banned in the state as it may create unrest.
“‘The Kerala Story’ to be made tax-free in Uttar Pradesh,” Chief Minister Adityanath tweeted. The Chief Minister is expected to watch the movie with his cabinet colleagues at a special screening.
Earlier, the Madhya Pradesh government, also helmed by the BJP, had made the film tax free. Announcing the decision, Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan said the film “exposes the conspiracy of love Jihad, religious conversion and terrorism and brings out its hideous face”.
BJP leaders across the country have urged state governments, especially in non-BJP ruled states, to extend tax-free status to ‘The Kerala Story’.
‘The Kerala Story’, produced by Vipul Amrutlal Shah and directed by Sudipto Sen, sparked a row soon after its trailer released last month.
The CPM-led Kerala government tore into the film’s makers and accused them of taking up the Sangh Parivar’s propaganda.
Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said the film tries to project the state as a centre of religious extremism by raising the issue of ‘love jihad’ – a concept that has been rejected by courts, probe agencies and the centre.
Mr Vijayan said such “propaganda films” and the alienation of Muslims depicted in them should be viewed in the context of Sangh Parivar’s efforts to gain political advantage in Kerala. He accused the Sangh Parivar of trying to destroy religious harmony in the state by “sowing the poisonous seeds of communalism”.
The Kerala government has not announced a ban. However, a section of theatre owners have decided not to screen the movie out of safety concerns. Cinema hall owners in neighbouring Tamil Nadu, too, have decided not to screen the movie. “Due to law and order concerns, other films shown in multiplexes that screen this movie suffer. It affects our income. That’s why this decision,” a senior member of the Theatre Owners’ Association has told NDTV.
While Bengal has announced the ban, an official order is awaited. Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee yesterday said the film is an attempt to “defame” Kerala. “Why did they make Kashmir Files? To humiliate one section. What is this Kerala files? If they can prepare Kashmir files to condemn the Kashmiri people… now they are defaming Kerala state also. Everyday they are defaming through their narrative,” she said.
The Trinamool Congress government’s move drew sharp responses. Union Minister Anurag Thakur said it was a “wrong” step. “Don’t they want to allow anyone to speak the truth? What do you (Mamata Banerjee) get out of standing by terror organisations?” he asked.
Earlier, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the movie “shows the ugly truth of terrorism and exposes terrorists’ design”. Slamming the Congress for opposing the film, he said the Opposition party has “shielded terrorism for vote bank”.
BJP’s national president JP Nadda watched the film at a screening in Bengaluru and said it exposes a new and dangerous form of terrorism. He also stressed that ‘The Kerala Story’ is not about any particular state or religion.
“This form of terrorism has no link to any state or religion. This lures youngsters, then misguides them and pushes them down the wrong path. This (film) reveals this and warns against it,” he added.