Column | The best way to deal with propaganda films is to ignore them

A protest by the members of the Cultural Mass front of the Central Reorganisation Committee (Janakiya Samskarika Vedi) against the release of a propaganda film, in Thiruvananthapuram. Photo: PTI

Some sections of the global Malayali community are upset about the release of a movie that claimed that 32,000 women from Kerala joined ISIS. That number went down to three after fact-checkers called them out. There’s really no reason for Malayalis to get upset about a piece of propaganda that is clearly driven by a divisive agenda.

Socially, Kerala is miles ahead of most parts of the rest of the country. When it comes to communal harmony, it would not be unfair to call it a model state. This is clearly reflected in Malayalam cinema, where lead characters and stories of many films revolve around Christians and Muslims without excessively stereotyping these communities.

It’s hard to imagine a Hindi film where the main characters are Muslims just living ordinary lives. “Bollywood” would either demonise a Muslim or go to the extent of showing them as hyper-patriots. It’s easy to understand the point of view of Hindi filmmakers. This is nothing but a business for them, and the target audience is essentially people who are deeply divided into religious and caste lines. A film showing a normal minority family living a normal life, as is the case in places like Mumbai and New Delhi would be a commercial disaster in the Hindi heartland.

So, Hindi filmmakers look to tap into the confirmation bias of a deeply polarised society. This isn’t to say that all Hindi films are of poor quality, but a vast majority of them are ‘dumbed-down’ for the target audience.

God’s Own Country

Kerala is a soft target for many in the right-wing ecosystem since strategies of communal polarisation don’t lead to election victories. It is also unfathomable for people from some other parts of India that people have the freedom to eat whatever they want.

Attempts to divide and rule by playing one community against another have also failed miserably in God’s Own Country. So, the next step in the war on Kerala’s pluralism and well-integrated society is to try and use the silver screen to create bad blood. Of course, as mentioned before, the target audience of the new propaganda film is not Kerala, but an audience elsewhere. If people in other parts of the country want to believe blatant lies about Kerala, let them. It certainly is not going to stop migrant labourers from the rest of the country from coming to the state. It is also not going to affect domestic tourism. Trains and flights to Kerala are full of holidaying families this summer.

The best thing to do with propaganda films is to not watch them. Protesting against them will only generate cheap publicity, something that Hindi filmmakers have milked in the past. Taking this matter to court is also not the wisest decision, because all it does is get the film's attention and for the filmmakers to use this to play the victim card.

The chances of a Malayali woman joining ISIS are lower than that of a man from another part of India falling for a honeytrap set up by the ISI and leaking defence secrets.

For anyone who disputes this statement, a simple search online would be an eye-opener. Even as the hype over this film and Kerala women joining the ISIS spreads, several publications in India reported that a director in the R&D wing of the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) was arrested on anti-terrorism charges. The reports indicate that the man, based in Pune, was honey-trapped. Despite a growing number of such cases, it would be idiotic for a film to be made on this serious security issue, suggesting that a ridiculous number of Hindu men are being lured by the ISI.

Malayali filmmakers are likely to ignore this attack on Kerala and continue to produce films that reach out to thinking adults. That is exactly the way it should be. Let people make films, write books and articles and keep trying to malign Kerala. Such attempts are proof that the Kerala Model of an integrated society with communal amity is driving divisive elements into even greater desperation. The best answer to the latest propaganda film would be empty theatres.

(Ajay Kamalakaran is a multilingual writer, primarily based in Mumbai. Views expressed here are personal)

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