On May 2, the Supreme Court refused to entertain an interlocutory application (IA) challenging the release of the movie “The Kerala Story.” The Court further observed that an IA is not an appropriate remedy to challenge the release of a movie.
The IA was filed in a pending writ petition seeking action against hate speech crimes. Advocate Nizam Pasha alleged that the movie “is the worst instance of hate speech” and that it was “audio-visual hate propaganda,” and mentioned the IA for urgent listing.
The Court questioned the petitioner about challenging the movie’s release before the Supreme Court instead of the High Court, stating that every challenge cannot begin with the Supreme Court. Furthermore, Senior Advocate Kapil Sibal joined the proceedings, requesting the Court to read the transcripts of the movie’s teaser and trailer. Kapil Sibal also informed the Court that the movie’s trailer has crossed 16 million views and that the movie is slated to release in multiple languages, including Hindi, Malayalam, Tamil and Telugu.
The Court expressed difficulties hearing the challenge in an IA instead of a substantive petition. The Court held that once the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) certifies a movie, then the courts cannot interfere unless there is a challenge to the certifications through a substantive petition.
Kapil Sibal said, “We have challenged in the IA, but it has to be in a substantive petition. I understand that” while arguing that the movie’s release was challenged through an IA due to paucity of time. Furthermore, he informed the Court that he will file a substantive petition and seek an urgent listing before the Chief Justice of India tomorrow. However, Kapil Sibal pleaded before the Court to still consider the case in a post-lunch session, which Justice KM Joseph denied informing that he is not available in the post-lunch session.
Justice BV Nagarathna said, “You can’t start everything at the Supreme Court.” Furthermore, Justice Joseph informed that he is aware of the ongoing controversies regarding the movie, and said, “We have an idea because we watched it on TV. We also watch TV.”
However, the Court again questioned the petitioner’s method adopted to challenge the release. Justice Joseph said, “If you have to get relief in a case, where you should get, I don’t think this may be the forum…with the IA kind of thing.” Kapil Sibal replied, “Yes, but that’s too late. Friday it is releasing. But we’ll do what we can.”
The Kerala Story
The Kerala Story, starring Adah Sharma, Yogita Bihani, Sonia Balani, and Siddhi Idnani in the lead roles is set to be released on May 5. The film is directed by Sudipto Sen and produced by Vipul Amrutlal Shah’s movie production house. The trailer made a buzz on social media as it claims that 32,000 women from Kerala were forcibly converted and allegedly recruited to the militant outfit ISIS.
In the film actress Adah Sharma is playing the role of Fathima Ba, a Hindu Malayali nurse, who is among the 32,000 women who went missing from Kerala and were then recruited to the ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) after being forced to convert to Islam. The film will be released on 5th May 2023 in Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, and Malayalam language.
The trailer opens with the line ‘Shalini Unnikrishnan, a Hindu from Kerala’ and shows Adah Sharma who plays the lead role of Shalini. The next shot shows her being held captive by two gun-laden women in uniforms, belonging to ISIS. The trailer also shows some Muslim men instigating others to get into relationships with women, and hand them over to them, showing how Hindu women are trapped in ‘Love Jihad’.
Further, it shows Adah Sharma’s religious conversion, wedding, and her being trafficked to Pakistan. It also shows Muslim women being manhandled, chained, and tortured. In the clip Shalini tells the officers, “Rather than knowing when I joined ISIS, it’s more important to know why and how I joined ISIS, Sir.”
Left, Congress and Islamists Call for a Ban
Kerala’s ruling Left Democratic Front (LDF), the opposition United Democratic Front (UDF), and other Left and Islamic organisations have all spoken out against the release of ‘The Kerala Story’ in the State and called for a ban. The Kerala Congress has also spoken out against the film and told people to boycott it.
Members of the Film Exhibitors United Organisation of Kerala (FEUOK) have now declared that banning ‘The Kerala Story’ is pointless because the audience will see it anyhow after the film gets released on OTT.
Suresh Shenoy, a FEUOK office bearer who runs a theatre complex in Kochi, told the media that banning a film will not set a good precedent. He went on to say that this constitutes censorship.
Even film fraternity members have spoken against the State-induced ban on cinema. Actor Chetan Kumar of the 2013 hit film Myna tweeted, “Controversial film ‘The Kerala Story’ will hit screens on May 5 While I have refused to act in movies that demonise community/gender in past, I don’t believe a state should ban a cinema—that has received censor board permission—on ideological grounds, Freedom of expression is must”.
Meanwhile, Culture Minister Saji Cherian urged people to boycott the movie, saying it aimed to show the State in a bad light. He added, “People of all religions live in harmony here”. He said, “Kerala is a state which is known for communal harmony… This movie could be seen as an attempt by the Sangh Parivar to destroy the secular fabric of the State… This is a conspiracy to divide and create unrest in society”.
Other than the governing CPM, the opposition Congress and Indian Muslim League has also slammed the movie. They call it an agenda film, a “Sangh Parivar conspiracy to implement its agenda in the state”.
CPM youth wing DYFI echoed the calls for legal action and alleged that the trailer “aims at communal polarisation”. IUML state general secretary PMA Salam said, “The trailer highlights CPM leader (and former CM) VS Achuthanandan’s statement regarding religious conversion made 13 years ago. CPM should clarify its present stand.”