Minnal Murali church kerala kalady
The sets of a church in Kalady to film the climax of the film ‘Minnal Murali’ were vandalised by right-wing elements in Kerala last week, who claimed it was close to a temple. Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: UAE-based producer Sophia Paul, whose film set of a church for her upcoming film was vandalised in Kerala by Hindu extremist groups Antarashtra Hindu Parishad (AHP) and Bajrang Dal, has hit out at the communal fanaticism and hooliganism on display. Two people have so far been arrested by Kerala Police.

“A violent act like this is unprecedented in a state like Kerala. Apart from the emotional turmoil, the senseless destruction has cost me more than Rs80 lakhs [Dh387,724],” said Paul in an exclusive interview with Gulf News. Paul had constructed the sets of a church in Kalady to film the climax of her film ‘Minnal Murali’ — the first superhero film in Malayalam, starring Tovino Thomas and directed by Basil Joseph.

The right-wing outfits that claimed responsibility on social media for the vandalism, claimed that the church set, a place for worship for Christians, was close to a Hindu temple, thereby ascribing the entire issue a communal undertone.

The violent incident has shocked the Malayalam film industry with several big directors such as Amal Neerad and the film’s lead hero Thomas criticising the act as “deplorable”.

UAE-based producer Sophia Paul
UAE-based producer Sophia Paul says the senseless destruction of the film sets has cost her more than more than Rs8 million. Image Credit: Supplied

“We have heard of movie sets being vandalised by religious fanatics in Bollywood. Now it’s happening right here. It has caused a lot of distress to me and my producer, a huge financial loss ... I can’t just wrap my head around what happened,” said Thomas in a message to Gulf News. 
In the past, the sets for Bollywood director Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s ‘Padmaavat’ were vandalised in Rajasthan by right-wing Hindu groups and the director was slapped.

Thomas was scheduled to film the climax of his superhero film on that church set when the coronavirus outbreak struck Kerala, stalling all shootings. Producer Paul is now forced to look for a new location to erect a church set afresh.

“We couldn’t even shoot for a day, despite the church set being kept ready, due to the coronavirus outbreak. There were two security guards stationed at the film set, and yet they destroyed our property ... More than 50 carpenters from Chennai had worked on it and I paid them double wages to speed up the work. All our efforts have gone down the drain now,” rued Paul, who has produced blockbusters such as ‘Bangalore Days’. The superhero film, with a budget of Rs200 million, is her fifth production after backing hits such as Mohanlal-starrer ‘Munthirivallikal Thalirkkumbol’.

“I am a producer who likes to see a hassle-free, smooth production of my films. We had all the permissions in place from the local authorities. Such hooliganism was totally unexpected. I had 21 days of shoot left on the church set. The sad part is that we had not insured the sets. Nothing like this has ever happened in our film industry in Kerala.”

Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan also criticised the right-wing group’s violent actions. “Kerala is not a land where such communal forces can thrive. The government will take strong action against them,” he said.

Hari Palode, the general secretary of right-wing group AHP, that has claimed responsibility for bringing down the church structure, has posted pictures of the group’s actions on his Facebook page. “We don’t have the habit of pleading. We decided to demolish it. Our self-respect must be protected at all costs,” posted Palode in Malayalam.