The Kerala Story is among a long list of films that invited bans and censorship.
The Bharatiya Janata Party-led Uttar Pradesh government announced on May 9, 2023 that the film The Kerala Story would be screened 'tax-free' in the state.
This came a day after West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said the film would be banned in her state since it may create unrest.
Earlier, the Madhya Pradesh government, also helmed by the BJP, had made the film tax-free.
Produced by Vipul Amrutlal Shah and directed by Sudipto Sen, the film tells the story of a group of women from Kerala who converted to Islam and joined the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
Earlier, soon after its trailer was released, the film was lambasted by the Kerala government, led by the Communist Party of India-Marxist.
Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan called it a 'propaganda film' and said the alienation of the Muslims depicted in it should be viewed in the context of the Sangh Parivar's efforts to gain political advantage in Kerala.
The Kerala Story is in a long list of Indian films that became the subject of a political slugfest or invited bans and censorship.
The political storm surrounding the film is reminiscent of the row around The Kashmir Files not too long ago, when state governments had similarly taken to either banning or declaring the film tax-free, depending on which end of the ideological spectrum they were at.
The first film to be banned by the Government of India on grounds of disrespecting political sensitivity was Mrinal Sen's 1958 drama Neel Akasher Neechey (Under the Blue Sky).
The film's narrative revolved around a Chinese hawker of silk cloth, Wang Lu, and his interaction with his clients in Kolkata.
Lu eventually forms a strong spiritual bond with the main female character, Basanti, and experiences an evolving movement of labour rights against the backdrop of India's struggle for independence.
The film's representation of China's political history and strong overtones of sexual harassment earned it a two month ban.
Almost 15 years later, a similar embargo was imposed on what would later be India's entry to the 1974 Oscars: M S Sathyu's Garm Hawa.
The film depicted the post-Partition plight of Muslims in India through the gradual disintegration and loss of the family of the protagonist (played by Balraj Sahni).
It was held by the censors for eight months, fearing communal unrest.
The film was finally released, thanks to the persistent efforts of Sathyu who held repeated screenings for government officials, Congress leaders and journalists.
The next big ban came for Kissa Kursi Ka, a 1977 political satire directed by Amrit Nahata, which criticised the politics of Indira Gandhi and her son, Sanjay Gandhi.
The film, starring Shabana Azmi, Utpal Dutt and Surekha Sikri, was banned by the Congress government during Emergency.
The '70s and the '80s are especially notable for the censor board's jittery approach to themes of political discontent and corruption.
Films like Ardh Satya, Nishant, and Mandi all faced the threat of bans by state governments and saw delays in release across the country.
More recently, in 2017, when Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Padmaavat drew fire from the Shri Rajput Karni Sena, Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had lent her support to the film.
Back then, she had described the ensuing protests as an attempt to curb freedom of expression.
The debate turned into a political slugfest that embroiled the CMs of Delhi, West Bengal, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh.
Not just Indian films, Hollywood's Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, too, had to move its shooting to Sri Lanka in the face of opposition from the central government, which had urged Steven Spielberg to re-write scenes depicting Indian culture in a negative and primitive light.
The film was later banned in the country.
Indiana Jones was not the only Western action-adventure sleuth to invite the scrutiny of governments in India.
After much negotiation with priests and distributors, the information and broadcasting ministry finally decided to release the film with a disclaimer at the end.
The list of films that have created political stir at the level of central and state governments is a long and diverse one.
And it reveals that the frequency of calls for bans and temporary embargoes increased as we entered the 21st century.
The greater prevalence of foreign films on this list is especially telling of how state governments have become more sensitive about the 'Western-gaze' and the depiction of cultural, religious and political themes.
With films like The Kashmir Files and The Kerala Story, the phenomenon also brings to light the evolving nature of the political role in censoring and moderating cinematic content in the country.