By UCA News
(UCA News) — A Muslim filmmaker’s two new movies with references to Jesus in their titles have taken a communal turn in southern India’s Kerala state, with a section of Christians viewing them as part of a larger plan to belittle Christ and Christians.
Director Nadirsha Sulaiman began to face opposition after he announced his movie Eesho (Not from the Bible). Eesho and Yeshu stand for Jesus in the state’s Malayalam language.
“We will not let this movie be screened anywhere in Kerala,” said politician P.C. George in a video post on Aug. 5, projecting it as part of a “well-orchestrated and deep-rooted conspiracy to malign Christianity.”
George, a Catholic and former lawmaker, wants Nadirsha to withdraw from releasing the movie and warned him not to take Christians for granted.
Several Christian groups, including some Catholic priests, also began to criticize the director after he announced a second movie, which they claim also mocks the name of Jesus.
The movie was named Keshu Ee Veedinte Nathan (Keshu head of this family), which Christians say mimics a slogan most Christians have on the entrance of their homes — Yeshu Ee Veedinte Nathan (Jesus head of this family).
The production and release of several movies have been delayed in the past year because of pandemic restrictions. Relaxed norms in recent months have allowed filmmakers to rush their projects.
Nadirsha said he would not change the names of the movies but promised to remove the tagline “Not from the Bible”. He said Eesho is the name of the movie’s main character and has no reference to the Bible.
The popular director, known for making comedy movies and stage shows, said in a social media post that his movies contain nothing offensive to Christians or their religion. It was unfair to criticize them even before their release, his note said.
Although rare, Kerala Christians sometimes use Eesho as a personal name.
Nadirsha said his movie Eesho was first announced a month ago and no one objected then. The objections came only after Keshu Ee Veedinte Nadhan was announced last week, he said, explaining it as an engineered move against his movies.
In the second movie, Kesavan is the name of the lead character, which is popularly shortened to Kesu in Kerala. The similarities between Kesu and Yeshu should not be offensive to Christians, he said.
“I do not know how these controversies erupted. One thing I can assure my brothers who believe in other religions is that being an Indian citizen who believes in secularism and a responsible artist, my movies will not have any content to hurt other people’s religious sentiments,” Nadirsha said.
His comments failed to pacify protesters.
George challenged Nadirsha to name a movie that seemingly insults Islam or Prophet Muhammad’s life. “He cannot. Christians are considered peace-loving simpletons. Anything can be done against them,” George said, vowing to change that impression.
George also warned the filmmaker of serious consequences if he failed to change the movie’s title. “I am really sad that Nadirsha took such a step. Don’t think that you can release a movie with this title.”
Catholic Church officials have not yet reacted to the controversy, but some priests and preachers have released video posts opposing the movie. Some Christian associations such as the Catholic Congress also joined the chorus of opposition.
Father Tom Olikkarottu, director of the Alpha Institute of Theology and Science based in Thalassery town, in a video post questioned the tagline “Not from the Bible”. “If not from the Bible, from where did he come to know about Eesho?” he asked.
The priest said Christian symbols and beliefs should become dearer to Christians. “If you don’t react to it, it implies that you are no more living a Christian life,” he said.
He also questioned whether other religious leaders would appreciate it if their beliefs were mocked in the name of freedom of expression or visual representation. Under such situations, the filmmakers would be beaten up, he said.
Catholic Congress president Biju Parayannilam urged the federal government to probe the source of funding for these movies. He said it would expose an unholy criminal conspiracy to defame Christianity.
However, some Catholics in Kerala questioned the campaign against the movie.
“Is Jesus only the property of Christians? Is it that if a Christian names a film after Christ, it is OK, but not when a Muslim does so?” George Joseph asked.
“Those who know Christ will understand that he will not object to a Muslim or anyone taking his name. We may oppose if the movie has objectionable material against Christ or Christianity.”
Catholic leaders who asked to remain anonymous said the issue is not about using the name of Jesus in a movie. They said Christian leaders sense a well-organized agenda to defame Christians and their faith through media.
“Most Christians are unaware of this plan and support such individual attempts in the name of secularism,” one said.