The Kerala Story that purports to portray the tale of Hindu and Christian women who were persuaded to join the Islamic State (IS) organisation has caused a great uproar. Many opposition leaders denounced the film, saying it is based in the southern state of Kerala. Some have called it propaganda and an effort to sabotage religious unity. However, it has garnered backing from BJP officials in power, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who hailed it at a recent political rally. Additionally, some party members have held screenings and given away free tickets.

Many mainstream critics have criticised the movie for its performances and “lack of nuance”; one said that the movie’s ideas about Islam and [religious] conversion appeared to have come from hate-filled WhatsApp groups. However, analyst Taran Adarsh told the BBC that the film’s box office success has been “extraordinary” considering its low budget and lack of major performers. He thinks it has made more than 560 million rupees ($6.8 million, £5.4 million) in five days, which he describes as “a feat for any new release”. The Kashmir Files, another divisive film that became one of last year’s biggest hits from Bollywood, has been compared to The Kerala Story.

That movie, which focused on the 1990s flight of Hindus from Kashmir, had a modest budget, no major stars, and was praised by Mr. Modi and other BJP leaders despite receiving mixed reviews. Indian sources claimed that four women from Kerala who had joined the IS were detained in Afghanistan in 2021 after the Taliban retook control. Under the condition of anonymity, a police official from Kerala told the BBC last year that “not more than 10-15 women” have converted and departed Kerala to join the IS since 2016. Many fans of the movie commended it once it came out, saying it addressed a pressing topic that needed to be acknowledged. The movie is tax-free thanks to two BJP-run state governments, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. Others, though, claim it promotes Islamophobia and demonises Muslims.

An association of multiplex operators in the state of Tamil Nadu announced they would stop showing the movie due to backlash and low viewership. The Trinamool Congress-run state of West Bengal outlawed the movie because it “could be dangerous to peace and order”. A few filmmakers and BJP figures, including at least two federal ministers, have criticised the prohibition. The Indian Supreme Court will hear a plea from the film’s creators challenging the ban on Friday.