Members of an outfit founded by former VHP chief Praveen Togadia have ransacked a movie set resembling a church that was erected near a Shiva temple on the banks of Periyar river near Ernakulam. The location is a venue for the annual Mahashivaratri festival. Later on Monday evening, police arrested Rashtriya Bajrang Dal leader Ratheesh Malayatoor.
After an uproar over social media against the film set, a group affiliated to the Antarashtriya Hindu Parishad (AHP) and its youth wing Rashtriya Bajrang Dal reached the set with hammers and ransacked it.
The set for the Tovino Thomas-starrer Minnal Murali was put up on land owned by the Kaladi local self-government body. According to panchayat president Thulasi Bai, the set was put up in March with permission from the panchayat but the shooting was delayed owing to the lockdown to curb Covid-19.
AHP state general secretary Hari Palode said in a Facebook post, “We have decided to pull it down. Swabhimaan should be defended. When such a structure was erected at Kaladi sandbanks in front of Maha Deva, we had objected to it. We don’t have a habit of pleading before others. Congratulations to all Bajrang Dal activities who participated in the seva and Rashtriya Bajrang Dal Ernakulam president Ratheesh Malayatoor, who led the workers. Let Maha Deva bless them.’’
The police have registered a case against 50 people based on a complaint by Sudeep Kumar, the secretary of Maha Shivaratri festival committee, which gave consent for setting up the film set on the banks of the river, 500 metres away from the temple. Kumar said a hate campaign had started on social media after the committee gave permission for the shoot. “We were, in fact, excited about the shooting and did not find anything objectionable,’’ he said.
Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said the attack on the film set should not have happened. “Normally, no one prevents shooting of a film. But in the recent times, certain communal forces have turned against the film. There have been attempts to obstruct certain film shooting… Kerala is not a place for communal forces and strong action would be taken against such moves,’’ he said.
The film’s director Basil Joseph expressed his anguish on Facebook. “I don’t know what to say. For some people, this may be a joke, a troll or publicity move. But for us, this was a dream. At a time when we are all fighting against a pandemic together, when we all stood with uncertainty, we didn’t think even in our dreams that something like this could happen. Especially in Kerala. We are very sad and anxious’’.