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Reflections on The Kerala Story controversy: A clickbait movie with a potential silver lining

While there is certainly a place for movies like Afwaah, it is equally important to make space for films like The Kerala Story.

Reflections on The Kerala Story controversy: A clickbait movie with a potential silver lining

The Kerala Story poster. 

  • Manoj Kumar R

Last Updated: 11.20 AM, May 11, 2023

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As per the Merriam-Webster dictionary, clickbait, a noun, is defined as "something (such as a headline) designed to make readers want to click on a hyperlink, especially when the link leads to content of dubious value or interest."

The Kerala Story has been mired in a series of controversies, overshadowing discussions about other films of great value and high-quality content. This is especially true for 2018, which many are calling the 'real' Kerala story.

It was clear even from the trailer that director Sudipto Sen's "inspired by true events" movie was designed to capitalise on the same psychological hooks as clickbait content. For instance, the filmmakers initially claimed that it was a story inspired by the suffering of 32,000 women, but later changed the number to 3 in response to public outrage. 

The movie was created to capture the audience's attention and lure them in with its shock value. Like most clickbait, its purpose was to generate high traffic and engagement by arousing the viewers' curiosity or urgency. And judging from all the reviews , it was evident that, as is often the case with such content, the movie failed to live up to the exaggerated or misleading promises made in its marketing, leaving many viewers feeling frustrated or disappointed.

The quality of the movie could have been subjected to scrutiny if there was ample space and time for people to reflect on it. However, the debates about its storytelling, music, character development, and technical aspects are being overshadowed by the debates over whether such a movie should exist.

It's important to acknowledge that those who have taken offence to the content of the movie have their own reasons and they are entitled to their opinions. At the same time, those who express their solidarity with The Kerala Story also have their own justifiable reasons, and it's important to respect their views as well. Whether or not you agree with those reasons, they hold significance for the movie's supporters. It's essential to engage in respectful dialogue and debates instead of resorting to knee-jerk reactions like bans or name-calling. In situations where there are disagreements, prioritising individual freedoms and respecting diverse viewpoints can ultimately promote unity and prevent division

There could be political reasons why some people are supporting this movie. It could provide them with an echo chamber to reinforce their beliefs and prejudices. Unfortunately, the release of this movie has also been accompanied by a rise in inflammatory incidents, transforming cinema halls from a safe communal experience to a place where people find more darkness than enlightenment. Some emerge from the experience with inflammatory comments, feeling that their thoughts have been validated by what they see on the big screen. This has motivated certain filmmakers to make movies with exaggerated claims, solely to evoke strong reactions and sell tickets. However, it's important to remember that cinema has the potential to be a powerful medium for promoting critical thinking and empathy, rather than just serving as a tool for stoking sensationalism and outrage.

The Kerala Story has attracted different types of viewers. Some watch it to express outrage, while others watch it to support the claims made in the film. And then some watch it to simply understand what the controversy is about. Meanwhile, the producers of the film are making a fortune . The movie has reportedly collected Rs 68 crore from worldwide ticket sales. The knee-jerk reactions of certain state governments to ban the film have only added to the chaos surrounding it.

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While there is certainly a place for movies like Afwaah, it is equally important to make space for films like The Kerala Story. Protecting the right to develop and express opinions is essential, as it ensures that a diversity of perspectives can be shared and heard. If we fail to protect this right, we risk losing our moral authority to object when films that we believe are important and valuable are banned.

The ideal scenario would be for The Kerala Story to be watched by all who are willing and interested, with a safe and open space created for discussions and debates on its themes and intentions. These discussions could inspire people from all over the country to seek out more information about Kerala and challenge the potentially bleak image portrayed in the film. They might be pleasantly surprised to learn that Kerala is a state known for its stunning natural beauty, healthy communal harmony, high literacy and life expectancy rates, and vibrant movie industry that is redefining mainstream cinema in India. However, the state is not without its problems, including social, political, economic, religious, and human rights issues. Malayalam filmmakers have done a fantastic job documenting these problems in thoughtful and grounded ways. 

For decades, many people in North India have been comfortable with the lazy and uninformed practice of labelling anyone from South India as a "Madrassi." It doesn't matter if you are from Telangana, Kerala, or Karnataka — to some, you are just a "Madrassi." Even in the movie Chak De! India, a well-meaning man at the registration table asks a player, "Are you a Madrassi?" When she responds, "No, Telugu," the man dismisses her answer with a smile, suggesting that he has a shortcut, to sum up the mind-boggling diversity of South Indian states by labelling them all the same. And when the player protests, the man asks, "What's the difference between Tamil and Telugu?"

And it took countless educational videos and articles and two global blockbusters (Baahubali 1 and 2) by SS Rajamouli to establish the simple truths about the unique identities and cultures of southern states. As Malayalam star Tovino Thomas said earlier in an interview , "...there are 35 million people in Kerala and with these three incidents nobody can generalise it."

While the movie might have painted a grim picture of the state, it can also inspire people to learn about the diverse and rich culture of Kerala beyond what is shown in the film. 

There could be a silver lining to this too. 

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