‘The Kerala Story’: Tax-free in UP and Uttarakhand as debate rages

New Delhi/Lucknow: “The Kerala Story”, the film on conversion that has polarised political discourse, was given tax-free status in BJP-ruled Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand on Tuesday and came under renewed attack from some opposition leaders for allegedly fuelling hatred.

As the multilingual film totted up box office numbers and controversy raged, the Supreme Court said it will hear on May 15 a plea against the Kerala High Court order refusing to stay its release.

In Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath announced on Twitter that the film, directed by Sudipto Sen and produced by Vipul Shah, will be-tax free in his state. His director, information, said the chief minister would watch the much discussed film along with his cabinet members on Friday.

Adityanath’s counterpart in Uttarakhand Pushkar Singh Dhami will do the same in his state, officials said. The state’s Tourism and Culture Minister Satpal Maharaj said the movie will be tax-free though a formal announcement is yet to be made.

‘The Kerala Story’ is a film depicting the truth of how terrorism is being spread without using arms and ammunition. I think everyone should see the film,” Dhami told reporters.

The Madhya Pradesh government was the first to give the film, which released in theatres across the country last week, tax-free status.

On Monday, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee ordered an immediate ban on its screening. In Tamil Nadu, multiplexes cancelled screenings citing law and order situation and poor audience turnout.

Politicians of various hues weighed in with their views as they have done ever since the teaser released, provoking extreme statements from both sides of the divide.

The BJP has supported the movie on women being forcefully converted to Islam and recruited by the ISIS, while opposition parties have accused the filmmakers of peddling hate.

NCP leader and former Maharashtra minister Jitendra Awhad said “The Kerala Story” producer should be hanged in public.

“They have not only tarnished the image of Kerala but have also insulted the women of the state,” Awhad said.

“They had said 32,000 women from Kerala had gone missing and joined the terrorist group ISIS, but the real figure is three,” Awhad told a news channel.

The movie’s production head Bhanjaya Sahu received a purported threat message on his mobile phone in Mumbai, prompting the police to provide security at his office in suburban Andheri.

Rajya Sabha MP Kapil Sibal slammed BJP leader Khushbu Sundar for her remarks backing the film, and accused her of indulging in politics of supporting that “which fuels hatred”.

On Monday, Sundar had voiced support for the movie and wondered “what scares those who are fighting to ban” it.

Reacting to her remarks, Sibal said on Twitter, “BJP’s Khushbu Sundar on Kerala Files: ‘Let people decide what they want to watch. You cannot decide for others’. Then why protest against:Aamir Khan’s ‘PK’, Shah Rukh Khan’s ‘Pathaan’, screening of ‘Bajirao Mastani’.”

As debate intensified, Uttar Pradesh’s main opposition Samajwadi Party said the state government should not use cinema and literature to impose “poisonous agenda on nation”.

Uttar Pradesh Deputy Chief Minister Keshav Prasad Maurya spoke up too, criticising the West Bengal and Tamil Nadu governments for not letting the public see the “truth”.

State BJP secretary Abhijat Mishra, who recently hosted a screening for college women at a theatre, said those aiming for “Ghazwa-e-Hind” (holy war against India) are being unmasked.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has credited the movie for bringing out terror conspiracies and used it to attack the Congress during an election rally in poll-bound Karnataka last week.

“The Kerala Story” was initially portrayed as “unearthing” the events behind “approximately 32,000 women” allegedly missing from Kerala. This was subsequently changed to three. It is produced by Shah’s Sunshine Pictures.

The Congress and the CPI(M) have accused the film of false portrayal against a community.

It was not just about politics.

The Producers Guild of India issued a strong, condemnatory statement.

“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 emphasised by us on several occasions in the past, film releases are regulated by CBFC and any film that complies with this statutory requirement should face no further hurdles in having the paying public decide on its fate,” the trade body said.

“The Kerala Story”, which premiered on Friday, has made Rs 45 crore at the box office in four days till Monday, according to trade experts.

Sibal, a senior advocate, mentioned the plea against the Kerala High Court order for urgent listing before an apex court bench comprising Chief Justice D Y Chandrachud and Justice P S Narasimha.

When the bench enquired whether the high court has passed an order in the matter, Sibal said it has refused to stay the release of film.

“We will keep it on Monday (May 15),” the bench said.

The high court had said the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) had examined the movie and found it suitable for public exhibition.

The high court also noted that the producers have published a disclaimer along with the movie which specifically says it is fictionalised and a dramatised version of events and that the film doesn’t claim accuracy or factuality of historic events.

It was hearing a batch of petitions which sought to set aside the certificate for public display given to the movie by the Censor board among other pleas including to ban it.