Opening up on the controversy surrounding The Kerala Story, actor Sonia Balani, who plays a negative character in the film, insists that hurting sentiments wasn’t what the film intended. “When we made the film, it was purely because it’s a true story of those girls,” says Balani, who plays Asifa, a Muslim girl manipulating her roommates to converting to Islam.
The actor adds that years’ worth of research and true accounts added urgency to the need to depict the story on screen. “Sudipto sir (director Sudipto Sen) has been researching this topic for seven years now. He showed us some pictures and videos and I instantly felt like doing it because it’s such a sad story and it affected me when I read the script,” she recounts, adding that no one from the film’s team “expected this kind of response”.
Balani recalls experiencing a sense of shock as she tried to process how, for some, going to study far away from home could mean ending up being a part of a dangerous terrorist outfit. “I was numb when I heard the script. When I read it, I thought that it’s a true story of those girls and for a bigger cause. Even if one girl is saved from getting brainwashed, that serves the purpose,” she explains.
The film — which follows three young women who are radicalised and forced to join ISIS — has met with polarising reactions and allegations of hateful rhetoric.
“It is nowhere against any community or religion. That was never the intention. If people perceive it as just a true story about what those girls went through, then their sentiments might not get hurt. There are no comments on any religion, but only ISIS and terrorism,” shares Balani, adding that amid all appreciation, she has also received some nasty reactions.
“I have been receiving abusive messages because I have said many strong lines in the movie about all the Gods. I know there is a section which is not happy, but if they realise that it’s a true story and the motive is only to create awareness of those terrorist groups, then I hope that they can feel positive about it. I am trying to focus on the positive side, instead of the trolling and bans. From the tea seller to every vendor, everyone is supporting the film so much,” the actor elaborates.
Along with the audience, Balani got a mixed response from her whole family as well. She shares, “When it comes to my own family, they are very happy of course. They saw it as a character and were happy that I had done a great job in the film. They told me that they could realise that I’ve grown as an actor, even if it’s a negative character. They said that we realise it’s just a character, and you gave our best shot. But, when it comes to my extended family, because of a few lines in the film, they also felt the audience should not perceive it in a different way.”
Lastly, addressing the call for bans on The Kerala Story, the actor feels everyone should have freedom of speech. “Everything has its own pros and cons, but putting a ban on something is not a solution. As the movie is doing well, it shows that content driven films are being liked by the audience, even if there are no huge superstars in it,” she concludes.
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(With Inputs from hindustantimes)