Minnal Murali (The lightning Murali) was all set to hit the screens with Tovino Thomas donning the titular role as a Malayali Peter Parker or Scott Lang. The shooting was underway and director Basil Joseph, who is also a Malayalam actor, was very optimistic about releasing the film by the end of this year.
But, with the COVID-19 pandemic hitting the scene and all production spaces officially “locked down”, the team also had to stop the shooting.
However, Minnal Murali hit the headlines on Eid (May 24) all for no good reasons. A group of men, allegedly affiliated to right-wing Hindu organization Anthar Rashtriya Hindu Parishad (AHP), demolished the set of a Church erected to shoot the climax scene of the movie. The AHP, which later took up the responsibility of the action, claimed that the men had demolished it because the “Church was built in front of Mahadeva Temple”, which is located at Kalady in Ernakulum.
The incident came to light when one Hari Palode, claiming to be the state unit secretary of AHP, published a Facebook note that the structure was demolished in order to protect the Hindu pride. Here is the exact translation of his post:
“We had warned them [the film crew] not to do when the structure was erected. We are not used to pleading; hence we decided to demolish the structure. I congratulate all activists of Rashtriya Bajrang Dal for participating in Karseva. I congratulate Malayattoor Ratheesh, the Ernakulum district President of Rashtriya Bajrang Dal. Lord Mahadeva may bless you all”. He has also given his full name and contact number in the post.
When the nation is fighting a pandemic, such fledgeling religious groups are at work. The sheer audacity to demolish the structure in broad daylight, take selfies and post it on Facebook with a public note claiming responsibility, and displaying even the phone number has sent a shock wave across Kerala.
Social media was flooded with protests and Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan reacted to the incident in his press briefing on Monday (May 25) as part of the fourth anniversary of his government. “This government will not tolerate any such attempt to disrupt the secular fabric of Kerala. Whoever is responsible for demolishing the film set will be booked. Kerala is not a land in which such communal forces can thrive. This is a deliberate attempt to provoke religious sentiments,” he said.
The film fraternity has filed complaints to the police, who have lodged an FIR for inciting communal violence, rioting, damaging public property, trespass and theft. “We have registered a case under IPC sections 153 (a), 379, 454, 427, 149 and 34 against five persons. We have started an investigation with top priority and the culprits will be arrested soon,” Karthik, Superindent of Police, Aluwa (rural) told The Federal.
“This is the first of its kind in Kerala. This cannot be tolerated at any level. This has been done in the same style followed by terrorist organisations, doing a heinous crime and proudly claiming the responsibility for the same. This is the first time such a thing is happening in Kerala,” says B Unnikrishnan, the general secretary of the Film Employees Federation of Kerala (FEFKA).
Sources in the film industry told The Federal the urge to protect “Hindu pride” was not the only reason. These men had been used to threatening film crews and demanding money.
“When Kerala is being globally recognised and appreciated for the way it fights COVID-19, some Hindu communal forces are highly uncomfortable [with this] and the attack is a deliberate and malicious attempt to create a scare and demolish the secular practices in the State. There is no option but to consistently raise our voice against such fanatics,” Ashiq Abu, director, producer and actor, who has consistently been the target of the Hindu right-wing organisations for his known left-liberal political view, told The Federal.
He also said the industry would, by all means, stand by Basil Joseph and team to extend all support. Basil Joseph is a young director and actor who has made a couple of films, by which he made a mark for himself in the Malayalam film industry. Social media users suspect that the men might have deliberately targeted Basil and Tovino for their secular positions taken in the past.
In a previous film directed by Basil, named Godha, there was a much-celebrated scene of the hero and his Tamil friend dying to eat beef in a North Indian town. The lead actor, Tovino, explains to his Tamil friend the delicious recipe of beef and he says, “beef is not just a food for Malayali, it is a deep-seated emotion”.
The movie that came amid beef festivals and anti-beef protests in 2017 was celebrated for this ‘beef reference’. However, Basil does not endorse these views that he has been specifically targeted. In Facebook, Basil put a note about the incident:
“I don’t know what to say, this must be only a matter of troll for someone, but for us, this was our dream. We have been working on this film for two years. Till yesterday, I was feeling so proud to see the photographs of this set. We were also anxious about the uncertainty of lockdown; this is the result of the hard work of so many. The art director and other team members worked for days under the scorching Sun to erect this structure. We have never expected such a thing to happen in our Kerala. I am heartbroken.”