An underrated masala film made on presumptuous love jihad and terrorism is adding a new divider. GMC Jammu emerged as the first place that led to a crisis on the basis of the movie, Babra Wani reports
From being promoted by the Prime Minister during an election rally to getting banned by West Bengal, The Kerala Story is triggering a bigger drama off-screen. This, however, is helping the masala film to mint money at the box office.
Dubbed “a long WhatsApp forward” by reviewers and critics, The Kerala Story revolves around some Hindu women who were “forced to convert to Islam.”
Directed by Sudipto Sen and produced by Vipul Amrutlal Shah, the movie’s cast includes Adah Sharma, Yogita Bihani, Sonia Balani and Siddhi Idnani but Adah is the main lead. The single-star rated movie is being seen as “Islamophobic propaganda” and tells the story of Shalini Unnikrishnan, a young woman aspiring to be a nurse who is forced to convert to Islam as part of the “love jihad” and eventually made to join ISIS. She ends up in Afghanistan jail.
The movie-makers initially claimed the film was representative of 32000 women from Kerala but it triggered a serious reaction. Finally, the numbers nosedived from 32000 to three.
The movie, currently roaring in north India has drawn flak in South India. It is not getting many eyeballs in Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Due to the protests and the underwhelming response from the people, the Tamil Nadu Multiplex Association declared on May 7 that it will not screen the movie any further. However, the movie became the third highest-grosser Hindi movie of 2023. It is expected to make more money than the equally controversial The Kashmir Files, which was also endorsed by the Prime Minister.
A Kashmir Actor
While Kashmir is missing in The Kerala Story, the controversial movie has a Kashmiri Pandit actor playing the character named Husna. The actor, Eleena operates from Jammu after her family migrated from Kokernag.
Eleena is a journalism graduate from the Institute of Home Economics, Delhi University. Currently, she is pursuing Masters’s in journalism from IGNOU, Besides, she has also taken acting classes at the Indian Institute of Acting, Ghaziabad.
Aspiring to become an actress since she was three, Eleena has already worked in a short film. For her playing Husna was very “emotional”.
The film, released on May 5, is expected to trigger more tensions in the coming days. Though the right-wing parties are backing it and asking people to watch it, the non-BJP parties believe it will eventually be a huge disadvantage as it is dividing people.
The division is very clear. There were protests and condemnation poured in from political parties like the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and Congress (INC). West Bengal even banned its screening. However, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh made the movie tax-free.
Defending the banning West Bengal submitted an affidavit in the Supreme Court. The movie, it said, “is based on manipulated facts and contains hate speech in multiple scenes that may hurt communal sentiments and cause disharmony between the communities which will eventually lead to a law and order situation, as has been gauged from various intelligence inputs.”
The movie and the filmmakers also face legal actions and petitions in the Supreme Court on grounds of communal disharmony.
In the just concluded assembly elections in Karnataka, where Congress unseated the BJP, the movie was widely promoted by the Parivaar parties. It was part of the election campaign.
The movie was in controversies throughout but it made a huge headline in Jammua and Kashmir on May 14 after it was found central to a scuffle/.
The Jammu Incident
The controversial flick has already linked Kerala with Kashmir. Police are investigating a case in which two sections of the medicos in Jammu Medical College clashed resulting in injuries to five. In a quick follow-up, the college rusticated ten students and it includes the one with more than a dozen stitches on his head – a Bollywood style justice.
On May 14 at around 3:30 pm a message popped out on the WhatsApp group of Government Medical College, Jammu that triggered the crisis. The message was sent by a student Deepak, with a link attached and suggesting the movie is a “must-watch”. A Kashmiri student replied: “Don’t share such stuff in the class group.” Just this exchange and the heavens started falling.
The students of the college alleged that the outsiders got involved in the incident which resulted in serious injuries to one Haseeb, a resident of Bhaderwah. Allegedly, he was repeatedly attacked with an iron lock and a bottle as a result of which he required 13 stitches to his head. Five other students were also injured.
A day later, the GMC rusticated ten students for at least two months. These included six Kashmiri students who were barred from attending classes until the completion of the inquiry. Rusticated students included Aniket, Arunesh, Waseem, Mubarak, Tauquir, Sarmad, Haseeb (final year), Akshit (second year), Umer and Deepak Chandel (first year).
“Disappointing to hear that the Victim Students were rusticatd by GMC Jammu Principal frm the hostel & banned frm attending classes, while the accusd roam free,” one student activist reacted (sic). “This action by the authorities doesn’t serve justice & is unfair to the studnts.”
However, days after the scuffle students of the college alleged that the majority of the rusticated students belonged to the group which was attacked. The students also claimed to have received threatening calls from outsiders.
The college administration disciplinary committee formed an inquiry committee to probe into the matter. Dr Sashi Sudhan, Principal and Dean of the college issued an official order naming the ten rusticated students. The order identified the rusticated students as
In connection to the incident, two separate FIRs have been lodged with the police station, Bakshi Nagar Jammu – one against the people involved and another one against a former student. The first FIR has been lodged against the students involved in the clash under sections 147 (punishment for rioting) and 323 (voluntarily causing hurt) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). The second FIR has been filed against the former student (JP Singh), under sections 451 (trespass to commit an offence punishable with imprisonment) and 323 of the IPC. Mukesh Singh, the top cop heading the police in the region said they have launched a manhunt to apprehend the attackers. So far, there has not been any breakthrough. However, the students who were attacked have alleged they are still getting threatening calls from phone numbers with the numbers hidden.
Interestingly, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) in Jammu held a special screening of the movie, two days after the incident on May 16. A VHP member told media reporters that they are screening the movie for, “the awareness of the girls of Jammu.”