ISIS Recruitment Tale ‘The Kerala Story’ Divides India: Banned in Some States, Subsidized in Others

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Sudipto Sen’s “The Kerala Story,” produced by noted filmmaker Vipul Amrutlal Shah, is in the eye of a storm in India. It has divided the country’s political classes, with some banning the film and others encouraging it.

“The Kerala Story” follows the travails of three women from the southern Indian state of Kerala who are abducted and recruited by ISIS in Syria.

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The modestly budgeted film released on May 5 to poor critical reviews, but is emerging as a major box office success, having grossed $5.6 million to date.

The film claims that some 32,000 women from Kerala had been abducted and recruited by the ISIS though the veracity of this number has been disputed. There were widespread objections in Kerala to the film, but it is running there in a limited number of cinemas.

The neighboring state of Tamil Nadu has not banned the film, but the state’s multiplex owners’ association withdrew the film from cinemas. In West Bengal, the film was banned on the orders of Mamata Banerjee, the Chief Minister.

Shah said he will take legal action against the halting of the film in Tamil Nadu and West Bengal.The Producers Guild of India has also objected to the bans.

“The Producers Guild of India is distressed by, and would like to record its strong objection to, state-enforced bans on ‘The Kerala Story.’ As emphasized by us on several occasions in the past, film releases are regulated by CBFC [Central Board of Film Certification] and any film that complies with this statutory requirement should face no further hurdles in having the paying public decide on its fate,” the Guild said in a statement shared with Variety.

“Of course, the audience can choose to watch or ignore any film but that is a choice that should be theirs to make, not one that is imposed on them by any party other than CBFC. We call upon all the relevant authorities to urgently address this all-too-frequent phenomenon of films being denied their right to unfettered, nation-wide exhibition despite having duly complied with regulatory requirements,” the Guild added.

Tamil Nadu, West Bengal and Kerala are so-called opposition states, with governments with different political leanings from the Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which dominates India’s national government. BJP-led governments in Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh have encouraged the film by waiving local film taxes, thus making tickets significantly cheaper.

Emotions are running high as the BJP and the opposition Congress party tussle over elections in the southern state of Karnataka, home to India’s software industry and the Kannada-language film industry that produced two of 2022’s biggest hits – “K.G.F: Chapter 2” and “Kantara.”

Prime Minister Narendra Modi said at an election rally in Karnataka last week: “The movie ‘The Kerala Story’ is trying to expose the consequences of terrorism in a society, especially in a state like Kerala which is beautiful land of hardworking and talented people. The Congress party is now trying to ban the film and support the terror elements.”

Tamil Nadu, West Bengal and Kerala are not ruled by the Congress party.

Sen was last year part of the jury at the International Film Festival of India, Goa, where jury chief, Israeli filmmaker Nadav Lapid, criticized the inclusion in the international competition of “The Kashmir Files,” which he alleged was “vulgar propaganda.” While other jurors, U.S. producer Jinko Gotoh, French film editor Pascale Chavance, Spanish documentary filmmaker and journalist Javier Angulo Barturen, supported Lapid’s stance, Sen distanced himself from Lapid’s remarks, saying that it was his personal opinion.

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