The upcoming Malayalam film Oru Adaar Love has dominated the news cycle for close to a fortnight. It began on February 9, when a video of the song Manikya Malaraya Poovi went viral and debutante Priya Prakash Varrier became an internet sensation. Days later, the song became the subject of a police case and multiple complaints. Dissenters allege that the song’s images, depicting school students exchanging flirtatious glances across a crowded auditorium, hurts religious sentiments. The song is originally a Mapila pattu, a folk tradition of Kerala’s Malabar Muslims, and narrates the love story of Prophet Muhammad and his first wife, Khadija.

The matter has reached the Supreme Court, which on Wednesday stayed all criminal proceedings in the case. The makers had moved court to get the case thrown out, saying the complaints violate their freedom of speech and expression as well as their right to life and liberty. Oru Adaar Love producer Ousepachan Vaalakuzhy, who is one of the petitioners, spoke to Scroll.in about the controversy.

Ever since the song ‘Manikya Malaraya Poovi’ came out, not a day has gone by that it hasn’t been in the news.
The song has obviously been a huge hit. So has the film’s teaser. People like it a lot. On social media, especially Facebook, it has been shared hundreds of millions of times. People have helped make it viral. But of course, certain people have a problem with it and they have filed a case against us.

You’ve now filed a counter case. Yet again, the film has been given more publicity. You could argue that this is a PR strategy.
This is not a PR stunt. We don’t need this kind of advertising. Malayalis the world over have made this song successful. People around the world – in the UK, UAE – are watching Manikya Malaraya Poovi and talking about it on different platforms. It’s gone viral all by itself. We didn’t go out of our way to seek publicity nor do we want negative publicity.

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Manikya Malaraya Poovi.

Why did you file a petition against the case that wants the song to be taken out of the film?
The film’s director, Omar Lulu, actress Priya Varrier and I have filed the petition. This is a song that was first written in 1978. It already exists. It’s a love song about the Prophet Muhammad and his wife Khadeeja Beevi. The lyrics are beautiful and [their translation] goes like this:

“She bloomed like a precious flower
In the sacred land of Mecca
Great Khadeeja Beevi
Was roaming in the sacred land
The lady roaming
She called for the respected lord, Prophet
And send him for trade
She saw him and coveted him in heart of hearts
She came back after trade
And she sought the hand
That sought her hand”  

But the problem is that when you put the Malayalam lyrics in Google or any other translation app, it comes up with stuff that may be inaccurate or misunderstood. No one in Kerala has a problem with it. It is people in other non-Malayalam speaking states like Telangana and Maharashtra who have filed these cases. They want the song taken out of the film. We feel this is illegal, unwarranted, excessive and unjustified.

You’ve been in the Malayalam film industry for a long time and you’re a respected producer. Do you think controversy makes a film more successful?
I’ve been in the industry about 34 years now and I’ve made 16 films. And I’m still here and working. If a film is good, people will watch it. You can create as much controversy as you want but it people will watch it only if it’s worthwhile. Never otherwise.

Ousepachan Vaalakuzhy.
Ousepachan Vaalakuzhy.