From getting a mention in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s speech to facing ire from the Opposition which termed it as a propaganda, 'The Kerala Story' has seen it all in just over a week since its release on May 5. Despite getting banned in West Bengal, not screening in Tamil Nadu and facing protests in Kerala, the film is inching close to the Rs 100-crore collection figure. Its director Sudipto Sen talks to Shine Jacob about the controversies surrounding the film and its performance so far in the box office. Edited excerpts:
You dealt with subjects like peace and tranquillity in your earlier movies, such as The Last Monk. How did you end up doing this subject?
My films were always really close to reality. In fact, my last two films, which are getting released soon, are about real incidents. I did a lot of documentary films. A documentary that I had done on the Kerala conversion issue had got the Best Film Award in the London International Film Festival. The feature film got its shape from that film.
I had two catalysts for the film. One was, of course, former chief minister V S Achuthanandan’s press conference in Delhi (in 2010, in which he spoke of alleged plans to make Kerala an Islamic state by 2020) and incidents like the one involving professor T J Joseph (whose hand was chopped off by the activists of the Popular Front of India).
West Bengal banned the film, it isn't being shown in Tamil Nadu and you are also facing huge protests in Kerala. What is your take on charges that it is against a particular religion?
This film is against ISIS. In the film, I have mentioned the term ISIS around 11 times and I said the religion is being misused by this terrorist organisation. It has nothing to do with any religion. Only if you are interested in supporting terror organisations like ISIS, will you raise the issue of religion. There is a notion in the country that terror has no religion. It is your problem, if you are linking it to the name of a religion.
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Two key issues raised were the mention that it is the story of 32,000 women and then bringing it down to three and also naming it as the Kerala Story, when India is not even among the top 10 countries from where people have joined ISIS?
Now it is not an issue. People who did not see the film had an issue. To criticise or discuss, one has to see the film. A section of people are trying very hard to ensure our film does not get released and get into the limelight.
Can you tell me, what is wrong about it (the name)? There is a movie called Mumbai Saga, which is a story of Mumbai's underworld. Do you think the director or producer intended to give the city a bad name? Ours is the story of 4-5 girls from Kerala. Therefore, it is The Kerala Story. The main idea is to highlight conversion issues.
The Opposition parties call it a propaganda film. Also, how do you see the support coming from the Prime Minister?
About 7.5 million people so far have watched the movie. We are really grateful to the audience of this country. The whole plan was to make a film that looked good technically as well. Propaganda is talking about a particular political party. I am talking about every citizen in the country. I think these are criticisms coming from the people who did not see the film.
Definitely, the mention by the Prime Minister has helped. The film is about social awareness. In such films, you always depend on political parties to take up the issue from that point. My film is running well everywhere, Congress-ruled states too. It is doing well in Rajasthan, Chattisgarh, Bihar, Jharkhand, everywhere. Unless I have the support of all, this kind of success is not possible. Every political party is supporting us. Some came out in public, some did not.
Is it against Love Jihad, as even probe agencies said there is no proof of such a thing in Kerala?
I did not mention Love Jihad in my film. In my film, there is love, there is jihad, but putting these two together somehow I believe that it becomes political and hence I avoided it. It is a universal film. Everybody should watch, discuss and analyse it. It is a film against terrorism and is a story of some innocent Kerala girls.
Since 2014, I closely followed all incidents of conversions in Kerala, including forceful and manipulative conversions etc. I kept meeting a lot of such people (victims) to know how these girls are falling into the trap. When I realised it isn't any simple conversion and has some larger implications, I knew that this is a subject I should do. Because this is an international issue, girls from Europe, America, Australia, everywhere such things are being reported in much larger numbers. The pattern in Kerala is a little different and it became my subject.