Our lyricist, hijab costume designer are Muslims, it’s wrong to label film anti-Islam: The Kerala Story producer

Producer-director Vipul Amrutlal Shah talks about his relationship with his Muslim crew and how they were the first ones to wish the team well after release of The Kerala Story trailer

MUMBAI | Updated: 01 May, 2023 9:26 pm IST

Ahead of its release on May 5, The Kerala Story had already created a buzz as it put a number to a topic that many tried to cover up.

Based on interviews with the girls who became victims of love jihad in Kerala, the movie highlights the heartbreaking story of ordeals suffered by thousands, 32000 as the movie claimed, who were lured into love jihad, converted to Islam, made to join ISIS and forced to take part in terror-related activities.

While a section of society was quick to label the film as a propaganda film, without even watching it, renowned producer Vipul Amrutlal Shah spoke to The New Indian as he shared how the Muslims in his crew were actually the first ones to congratulate him on the film.

“In my life, I have worked with so many Muslims. Even today, I have deep connections with them,” Shah said. “This is the perfect example of creative freedom. When you are making a film like this with 30 to 40 per cent being Muslim crew members and you are all working openly together without any hesitation, without suppressing yourself, I think it is a sign of creative freedom,” he added.

“Anyone who watches the film with a neutral mindset can never say that we are making this film against a particular religion, particularly Islam,” Shah added.

While Shah is well known for his trademark Bollywood masala films – his partnership with Akshay Kumar gave us films like Aankhein, Waqt: The Race Against Time, Namaste London, Action Replayy, Singh is Kinng – the director-producer knew that he had to make the film at the very first instance.

“When I read the materials and when I interacted with those girls, I thought this was a story with such a big human tragedy that had to be told,” he said.

“We often get lost in these conversations about making it very intellectual, but at the core of it, what draws me to this film is the fact that we need to save our daughters. And saving our daughter is the most powerful message that this film can deliver,” Shah said while talking about the central theme of his much-talked-about film with The New Indian.

“We believe that if this film can save even a few girls, the film would have done a really big service to society,” he said, adding, “The point is to just bring out the facts in front of people in the most honest way, without trying to be smart about it, without trying to be political about it, without trying to be intellectual about it.”

Talking about the controversies that shrouded the film, the brave producer, who invested his own money to produce the film, said, “People say all kinds of things: Yours is a propaganda film, you are stooges of ABCDE, you have taken money from ABCDE to malign a certain religion or community. But the truth is uncomfortable.

“The truth that we are trying to bring out is going to shake certain institutions. They are going to shake some people and that is why they are going to get uncomfortable,” Shah said while explaining that people will look to discredit the film because that is the best way to defend themselves.

A Bollywood veteran, Shah knew very well that making such a film is filled with challenges. But one of the biggest challenges is being factually correct for the sake of the girls, who have suffered trauma and pain that cannot be explained.

“If you are making a film like this and your facts are not correct, then you will get discredited, the film will get discredited and because of our mistakes, the girls, who are suffering, will suffer more injustice,” Shah said.

“So, it is important for all of us to be sure that whatever we are saying is true. We are going to be able to stand by it, because if even one point is proven to be wrong, the whole issue will be discredited. The issue should not be discredited,” he added while talking about filing an RTI where the then government had led them to a website that did not exist.

While the hijab controversy has created a lot of furore in the country, Shah said that it is important to respect the rules and regulations of the institutions where one studies.

“I am a strong believer in freedom and liberty. But I think we should respect the laws that are made by that particular institution,” he said.

“You can decide not to get into the institution if you don’t like the laws. But once you are part of that institution, you need to follow its laws. Or you can find an institution that will allow you to practice whatever religious belief you follow,” he told The New Indian.

Talking about some traumatic scenes that were shown in the film, Shah said the disturbing scenes are depictions of actual incidents experienced by the girls who had been trafficked.

“What we had shown in our film is something that we heard from the girls in their testimonies that they went through this. Every scene that is there in the film, girls have experienced it in their lives,” he explained.

Shah acknowledged that scenes that showed comments made against Hindu gods might be offensive to some people, but he added that the scenes were necessary as he wanted to show how the process of indoctrination begins.

“It is our responsibility to respect other religions. Whatever my personal beliefs, I have no right to make loose comments about other religions or hurt the sentiments of others. This is not allowed to me,” he said.

“But when we interviewed the girls, we found one common link, that their religious beliefs were strongly challenged and then broken. And from there, the process of indoctrination starts,” he added.

“The film shows comments made against Hindu gods. These are actual events, these are actual comments that the girls told us. We knew it would hurt sentiments, but it is important to show because it is important to tell people about the process (of indoctrination) about how you will be led and how you can escape,” he told The New Indian.

Shah, who is married to acclaimed actress Shefali Shah, also said that when he discussed the story with his wife, she immediately gave her consent despite knowing very well the challenges it might bring.

“When I told her that this is the story and this is what I want to do, if I do it, then there might be problems. The answer was, ‘if the girls are suffering, let’s deal with it. You do it’,” Shah said.

“But more than that, when I look back, this country often gets into debates about whether democracy is under threat or whether there is no creative freedom. Now let’s see. This (The Kerala Story) is our creative freedom. We made the film with the utmost honesty. Now it is a test of the ones who are talking about creative freedom and how they react. That will be interesting,” Shah signed off.

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