Non-screening of 'The Kerala Story': SC seeks response of Tamil Nadu, Bengal governments

While West Bengal has banned the movie after three days of its screening in theatres, Tamil Nadu has not banned the film but the exhibitors have withdrawn from cinema halls owing to security concerns.
Poster of the film 'The Kerala Story' starring Adah Shah. (Photo | IMDb)
Poster of the film 'The Kerala Story' starring Adah Shah. (Photo | IMDb)

NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Friday sought replies from the West Bengal and Tamil Nadu governments on a plea of the producers of "The Kerala Story" that the movie is not being shown in theatres in these two states.

While West Bengal has banned the movie after three days of its screening in theatres, Tamil Nadu has not banned the film but the exhibitors have withdrawn from cinema halls owing to security concerns.

A bench of Chief Justice DY Chandrachud and Justice PS Narasimha questioned the West Bengal government saying the film is being screened in the rest of the country without any problem and there appears to be no reason for the ban.

"Movie is running in the rest of the country including in states having similar demographic composition and nothing has happened. This has nothing to do with the artistic value of the film. If people do not like the movie, they will not watch the movie," the bench told senior advocate Abhishek Singhvi, appearing for the West Bengal government.

Singhvi said according to intelligence inputs, there may be a situation of law-and-order problem, and peace among different communities may be breached.

He said that the state has the power under section 6 of the West Bengal Cinemas (Regulation) Act, 1954 and opposed the grant of the stay of the order.

"This court has asked petitioners who filed petitions on the movie to approach the high court for relief. Now, this petitioner has approached this court, kindly direct them to approach the High Court. Also, we have received several intelligence inputs indicating a breach of public order", he said, adding that no stay be granted without giving an opportunity to the state to file its reply.

Senior advocate Harish Salve, appearing for producers of the movie, said that in West Bengal the movie was screened for three days before it was banned.

The bench told Singhvi that it is issuing notice to the West Bengal government and will not stay the order (banning screening of the movie), without giving an opportunity to the state.

The bench also asked the Tamil Nadu government to specify measures taken to provide adequate security to theatres screening the film.

"The state government cannot say that it will look the other way when theatres are attacked and chairs are being burnt," the bench told advocate Amit Anand Tiwari, appearing for Tamil Nadu government, after he submitted that there is no ban on the movie.

Salve said there is de facto ban in Tamil Nadu as theatres screening the movie are being threatened and they have dropped the screenings.

"For West Bengal, we are seeking quashing of the ban order," he said.

"We are issuing notices to both the states and they may file their response by Wednesday," the bench said.

"The Kerala Story", starring Adah Sharma, was released in cinemas on May 5. Directed by Sudipto Sen, the film claims women from Kerala were forced to convert to Islam and recruited by the terror group Islamic State (IS). On May 10, the top court had agreed to hear a plea by the producers of the controversial multilingual film 'The Kerala Story' against the West Bengal government's ban on screening of the movie after the makers said they are "losing money every day".

On May 8, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee ordered an immediate ban on the screening of the film in the state to avoid "any incident of hatred and violence", a senior state government official had said.

The top court had posted for May 15 a separate plea against the Kerala High Court order refusing to stay the release of the movie and the fresh plea would also be heard on that day.

On May 5, the high court refused to stay the release of the movie and said the trailer does not contain anything offensive to any particular community as a whole.

The high court had noted the producers' submission that they do not intend to retain an "offending teaser" which contained a statement that "32,000 women" from Kerala were converted and joined a terrorist organisation.

It said the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) has examined the movie and found it suitable for public exhibition.

The high court had also noted that the producers have published a disclaimer along with the movie which specifically says it is fictionalised and a dramatised version of events and that the film doesn't claim accuracy or factuality of historic events.

"In view of the disclaimer also, we are not inclined to pass an interim order restraining the respondents from exhibiting the film as such. In view of the above and taking into consideration the statement made by the producer that the producer does not intend to retain the offending teaser in their social media handles, no further orders are necessary in this petition at this stage," the high court had said.

It was hearing a batch of petitions which sought to set aside the certificate for public display given to the movie by the censor board among other pleas including banning it.

The petitions before the high court had contended that the movie "falsely portrayed" certain facts which had resulted in "insulting" the people of Kerala, and sought a stay on the movie's impending release.

On May 4, the apex court refused to entertain for a third time a plea challenging the CBFC certification granted to the movie, saying courts must be very careful while staying exhibition of films.

It had observed that producers have invested money in the film and actors have dedicated their labour, and it is for the market to decide if the movie is not up to the mark.

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