• Sun. Jun 4th, 2023

Vipul Shah calls Kerala story ‘uncomfortable truth’, says ‘if anyone wants to ban it…’

Filmmaker Vipul Amrutlal Shah’s upcoming film, The Kerala Story, has been making headlines ever since its teaser was unveiled. It revolves around the stories of Hindu women from Kerala who were converted to Islam and trafficked to ISIS and other Islamic war zones in 2018-2019. It uncovers the events behind approximately 32,000 missing women in Kerala who were allegedly radicalized and deployed in terrorist missions in India and around the world. The trailer for the film sparked protests in Kerala and some parts of the country, as well as some political parties calling for a ban on the screening of the film.

In an exclusive chat with News18, Shah addresses the controversies surrounding the film, due to its subject matter. Although he thinks they are only portraying the “truth” through the film, he believes that political parties have the right to express their dissent as it is “a sign of a healthy democracy”. Excerpts:

The Kerala Story is inspired by the life of a young girl converted to Islam, sent to Syria and currently in prison in Afghanistan. Have you had the opportunity to speak to him?

My director (Sudipto Sen) spoke to her on the phone while she was in prison. We also recorded a long interview with his mother. We gathered all the information from both of them and that’s how we started [the process of making the film]. When we started working on it, we realized that many such cases happened and are happening in Kerala. And as a result of that, we came across the stories of three girls.

How involved were you in the casting process?

I co-wrote the film. I am also the producer and creative director of the film. I get involved in every project I do, regardless of my role in it. I believe that until you put everything you have into a project, you can’t get the most out of it.

Since the film is based on a bold subject, was it difficult to get actors involved? Were they worried?

I don’t see it as a bold film but as a story that was very important to tell. So when we approached the actors, we felt no hesitation. They were all very happy to work on this film. Since it’s a girl’s story, they all thought it was important that the film be made. So everyone who worked on this film worked with a lot of commitment and sincerity.

Some political groups have called for the screening of The Kerala Story to be banned. Did that discourage you?

I believe in the law. The censor board cleared the film. They thoroughly reviewed the film for almost a month and a half before giving us the certificate. We are happy to have passed this scrutiny. We know that all the proofs and documents that we have provided to the final film certification authority have been approved. This shows that they have accepted our truth. After that, if some groups have complaints and want to create problems, I think it’s better to let the courts or any legal authority decide. I’m not bothered by these things. I believe we did everything according to the law. So we have nothing to fear.

You said The Kerala Story is a film about girls becoming victims and not about Love Jihad. But don’t you think that when you make films about a subject like this, it inadvertently becomes political?

It tends to happen. Each political party has its own ideology. And when they find an issue that is against or in tune with their ideology, they tend to connect with it. So if a political party opposes the movie, then I’m sure the movie opposes the ideology of the party itself and that’s why they think this movie shouldn’t be publicized or seen by people. It is unavoidable in a country like India where politics occupies a very important place in our daily life. Everything tends to become political in our country. So I can only expect things to get political when you do something that is an uncomfortable truth and people have a hard time dealing with it. Therefore, resistance is inevitable. I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing because people in a democracy all have the right to disagree with us and we all have the right to go and make a movie we believe in as long as we’re telling the truth . We are open to any discussion and debate that anyone wishes to have. I think that’s a sign of a healthy democracy.

But have you seen anyone disagree with what is shown in The Kerala Story?

I read that a minister from Kerala made a statement and called for the film to be banned. But again, if the film is not aligned with his party’s ideology, then he has every right to oppose it. But whether a film should be banned or not should be decided by the courts and the censor board. According to my understanding of the law, once the censor board clears a film, it largely cannot be banned. But if anyone still has a reason to ban it, so be it. If a movie is about a dark trap set for girls and it goes against a party’s ideology, then what can I say? It is their choice and their freedom to do what they think is right. As far as I’m concerned, just because the movie is called The Kerala Story doesn’t mean the movie is against Kerala.

Keep on going…

If a movie is called Shootout at Lokhandwala and criminals were shot at Lokhandwala in Mumbai, does that mean the movie is against Mumbai? There is another movie called Mumbai Saga which is about Mumbai underworld. Does that mean it’s against Mumbai? If I had to show the story of Dawood Ibrahim? Where am I going to place it? I will have to place him in Mumbai because he operated here. Does that mean it’s against Mumbai? No. We call Kerala paradise on earth. It is one of the most beautiful places in the world. But to say that there is no one in Kerala doing bad things is like going too far. Talking about the pride of Kerala is also stretching it too far. I rather think the fantastic people of Kerala should come forward and catch these perpetrators and put them behind bars. It would be doing their wonderful state a service rather than saying that we are trying to defame their state by calling our movie The Kerala Story and they want to ban it. To me, that just defies logic. If I love my city, I’ll do something for it instead of being an ostrich and sticking my head in the sand thinking nothing bad is going on. That’s not an approach I would take.

Did you screen the film for the families of the girls the story is based on?

They will see it soon. Some of them were suffering from Covid and so we couldn’t show them earlier.

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