“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it” – Evelyn Beatrice Hall
Sure, some people deserve to be SPARTA-ed, but let’s keep that aside for now.
With The Kerala Story entering the 100-crore club, the movie is a reminder that hate and propaganda sell like peanuts in the country. As concerning as this thought is, I still don’t believe that the movie should be banned. It is a topic with multiple layers of grey, but here are my 2 cents.
Yes, without any doubt, it spreads misinformation, hate, and content that I would wish to see burnt down any day. But why would I not call for a ban on it? For the simple reason that freedom to express does not apply only to content that caters to your belief system. It also includes a vast space of content that could be extremely offensive, distasteful, or even fiction sold off as a “true story”.
This liberal stand, like any other, has its flaws as well. For beginners, this propaganda movie fuels hatred towards a certain community in the country. This becomes extremely problematic in today’s political scenario, where the idea of secularism is already a blurring line. Many Muslims continue to feel targeted under hateful stereotypes, and propaganda movies such as The Kerala Story harmfully add to this idea. So one may ask what is a good liberal stand for during such times.
Is Banning The Solution Against Hate-Mongers?
I believe not for three reasons:
Negative publicity is best publicity
Banning can backfire hilariously. We have had a long line of history proving that nobody can stop anyone from watching what they want to watch. By saying, “The State bans you from watching this shit”, every other average human would read it as, “Enna pinne VPN itt onn kandekaam.”
The best example is BBC’s controversial documentary India: The Modi Question. After the Centre banned the series, even those who weren’t planning to watch it in the first place streamed it rebelliously. That is precisely what would happen even in this scenario. Banning is a free promotion to the filmmaker, which I do not wish to credit them with.
If art can offend, it can defend too
The Kerala Story‘s release also came with heartwarming reminders and true stories from Kerala. When one Bengali chettan thought it was a good idea to misrepresent the story of 3 women as the story of 32,000 women, more than 3 million stories came from the state showing the true Kerala Story. Non-Malayalis even praised the land, its culture, and the communal harmony that made it “God’s own country.”
And about the same time, Kerala saw a brilliantly crafted movie based on the true incidents from the 2018 Kerala floods. Stories of selflessness and kindness of many heroes during the floods filled screens in Kerala. Needless to say, most of the audience could tell which one is vellam and which is vesham.
Place them as dummies for a moment
Here’s the thing, nobody really knows everything. The world becomes a less infuriating place to live in if you envision everyone as stupid, stupid people (including yourself).
So when there’s a clash of ideologies, you try to strike a healthy conversation around it rather than striking the person out of the population census. Again, very idealistic, but I fail to understand how banning would resolve the issue. With many states imposing a ban on the movie, propaganda-ish ideas have been reinforced among many crowds.
Voicing out what you find problematic within the content (or even with the filmmaker’s thought process) could meanwhile steer the narrative toward a factual route. Again, if you picturise a world full of stupid people, you would know that not everyone would go down the factual route. This is because facts and numbers do not cater to many people’s senseless fears of their religion being threatened.
In this case, several people held the makers of The Kerala Story accountable for their fallacies, and overnight the team changed their numbers from 32,000 to 3 victims. However, this may not be the case every time someone creates harmful and misleading content. It’s very idealistic to think that the targeted community’s voice and reasonings against propaganda would be considered every time.
However, to be heard, it’s also equally important to hear out everyone else. (Easier said than done, I understand.)
A Very Risky Line To Cross
A recent opinion piece by Manash Firaq Bhattacharjee quoted a statement by the UN secretary-general, António Guterres: “Public discourse is being weaponized for political gain with incendiary rhetoric that stigmatises and dehumanises minorities, migrants, refugees, women and any so-called ‘other’.”
It says that while freedom of expression is one thing, it holds no greater value than the dignity of vulnerable people. This is where he draws the line in terms of Freedom. This is the baseline, and it is agreeable on many levels.
But then again, banning one work is like placing the licence to ban just about anything that might not cater to one’s views.
With that, banning a song featuring a saffron-bikini clad Deepika Padukone becomes acceptable as it hurts the religious sentiments of the saffronised minions.
Banning the true story of a Parsi boy who disappeared during the Gujarat riots becomes acceptable as it hits a nerve with the perpetrators.
Banning a movie on homosexuality becomes acceptable because the movie characters were from a Hindu family, and it supposedly triggers Hindu customs and traditions.
I believe none of it is acceptable, and I do not wish to keep up with the intolerant streak the country has been chasing with the bans. I could go on and on about the politics that ensues with propaganda movies sold as a sad excuse for art. But we all know that story. Even the head of the government continues to endorse The Kerala Story as a great “conspiracy” that was “unearthed” (despite national think tanks releasing numbers that say otherwise).
Just, what is this country’s behaviour?
To Sen Or To Not Sen?
Since the filmmaker’s name sounded really familiar, I googled Sudipto Sen, and that’s when it hit me. This genius was the only jury member at the International Film Festival of India who isolated himself from Israeli filmmaker Nadav Lapid’s comment on The Kashmir Files being a “propaganda” movie not worth showcasing at the IFFI. While the rest of the jury agreed with Lapid’s statement then, Sen stood with all true honesty by The Kashmir File‘s side. Feathers of the same propaganda flock together after all.
Sen has also infamously made the 32,000 claims on “international conspiracies” linking Kerala and terrorist groups for years. His latest addition to this list was The Kerala Story. And despite global think tanks suggesting possible numbers of IS recruits, Sen chose to make an entire movie out of “mistranslations, misquotes and misrepresentations of unrelated statistics.” Understandably then, many film reviewers found Sen’s attempt with The Kerala Story as a “lengthy WhatsApp forward” that was laughably inept. I want to think of it the same way and would not attribute it even a ban-inde vela.
Instead, I would like to issue a note in the public interest to the beloved non-Malayali writer-director Sen, who managed to shoot an entire nonsensical narrative on Kerala without as much as even 5 Malayalis in the cast or crew – Thangalude kadi maariyengi, kindly watch movies like 2018.