The Kerala Police on Monday registered a first information report after members of a right-wing Hindu organisation vandalised a church set erected for the shoot of a Malayalam film at Kalady in Ernakulam district, The Indian Express reported. It was set up by the art team of the Tovino Thomas-starrer Minnal Murali at a cost of around Rs 50 lakh.

Hari Palode, the general secretary of the right-wing outfit Antarrashtriya Hindu Parishad, said in a Facebook post that his group along with Bajrang Dal members demolished the church set as it purportedly stood opposite the Shiva temple on the banks of Periyar river at Kalady.

“When they built such a structure in front of the Mahadeva shrine in Kalady, we said no,” he said in the post along with pictures of members destroying the set. “We had also submitted several complaints. We do not have the habit of pleading. We decided to demolish it. Our self-respect must be protected at all cost.”

Palode also congratulated Bajrang Dal Ernakulam District President Ratheesh Malayattoor for participating in the “service work” of razing the church set.

Mini Biju, member of Kalady town panchayat, told The News Minute that the film unit took permission before constructing the set. “They had submitted a letter seeking permission to raise a temporary set,” Biju added. “This was back in February before construction began. The panchayat committee had approved this request.”

Meanwhile, Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said strict action will be taken against the right-wing outfits. “Such incidents have no place in Kerala,” he added. “ The film set was built in March spending lakhs of rupees. But because of Covid lockdown, the work got stuck. Now, there are reports of Bajrang Dal having vandalised it last evening. This is clearly aimed at provoking religious sentiments. Kerala is not a land where such communal forces can thrive. The government will take strong action. There is no doubt about it.”

An officer at the Perumbavoor police station said the case is being investigated. “The FIR has been registered though we haven’t added the sections yet,” he said. “We will have more developments in a few hours.”

Sophia Paul, the producer of the movie called the set destruction a “colossal loss”, adding that it was built for one of the most important scenes.

Thomas said that the reasons that were given by the perpetrators to destroy the church set eluded him. “We had the rightful permissions from the concerned authorities,” he said on Facebook. “And as we were about to start shooting in this set – which was built on a considerable cost, the whole country went into lockdown, following which our shoot was paused, just like all others. It is during this prevailing uncertainty that this contractual set was destroyed by a group of racialists yesterday. The reasons they cite for this unceremonious act are not understood to our senses till now. We’ve heard of movie sets being vandalised by religious fanatics in Northern parts of India. Now, it’s happening to us right here.”

Meanwhile, director Basil Joseph said the church set was a dream. “I don’t know what to say,” he wrote on Facebook. “For some people, this may be a joke, a troll, political or publicity move. But for us, this was a dream. Till a few days ago, when we used to look at the photograph of the set, we used to feel proud...We had taken all permissions. 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.”