From The Kashmir Films to The Kerala Story: How Should We Engage with Propaganda Films?

Sowmya Rajendran

The Success of the Films like The Kerala Story

Four years ago, Aijaz Khan was at a screening of his film Hamid (2019) at the Nitte International Film Festival (NIFF) in Mangaluru when a woman from the audience gave him a hug. Hamid won a slew of awards, but it could never hope for the kind of box office success that films like The Kashmir Files (2022) and The Kerala Story (2023) have achieved.

The Biggest Blockbusters

The two films are among the biggest blockbusters from the Hindi film industry in recent times, and both rely upon exaggeration and misinformation to push an agenda that feels akin to right-wing propaganda. 

The Unsupported Claim?

For instance, Sudipto Sen’s The Kerala Story claimed 32,000 women from Kerala were forcibly converted to Islam through ‘love jihad’ and joined the terrorist organisation ISIS. When challenged in court, the makers were unable to prove the number and ultimately offered to remove it from the trailer.

The Outrageous Support By The Leaders of the Ruling Dispensation

On release, these films are promoted by leaders of the ruling dispensation and their followers continue the campaign online and on the ground. In the case of The Kerala Story, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Haryana (all four have governments led by Bharatiya Janata Party) have given The Kerala Story tax-free status.  

What the Veterans Think

Veteran cinematographer (of Nayagan fame) and director PC Sreeram strongly believes that such films damage the social fabric of the country. “It’s a sad state that the country is in. I belong to the same medium of cinema, and when it is misused, I feel like I should voice my opinion about it,” he said.

The Idea is To..

This is not to suggest Muslims should be depicted as uniformly angelic. Halal Love Story, directed by Zakariya Mohammed who co-wrote the film with Parari, is about a conservative Muslim religious organisation that sets out to make a “halal” film that conforms to Islamic principles. While the film depicts a wide range of Muslim characters, it also gently mocks the conservative beliefs within the community. 

More Films Like 2018?

The Kerala Story was released on the same day as 2018. The Tovino Thomas-starrer 2018 is a survival thriller about how the people of the state came together during a devastating natural disaster. The film has made over Rs 90 crore worldwide and is set to breach the Rs 100 crore mark soon.