The controversy over the reported reference to former Chief Minister K. Karunakaran in the film Celluloid, which won the State award, widened the political divide in Kerala on Monday as leaders across the spectrum came out with statements for and against the film and its director Kamal.

Minister for Culture K.C. Joseph and K. Muraleedharan MLA upped the ante against the film, which deals with the life of noted director of yesteryears J.C. Daniel who is known as the father of Malayalam cinema. Leader of the Opposition V.S. Achuthanandan and Janata Dal (Secular) leader A. Neelalohitadasan Nadar condemned the attack on the film as a symbol of intolerance.

Addressing the media at a press conference held to announce the Pravasi Awards instituted by the Kerala Sangeetha Nataka Akademi, Mr. Joseph accused Mr. Kamal of trying to portray former the Chief Minister as a person with communal bias. He said the attempt to drag Karunakaran into a controversy was unfortunate.

Karunkaran, he said, was a widely revered leader who had won the hearts of the people. “It is unfortunate that there has been an attempt to show him in a bad light. The freedom of expression does not mean the right to say anything about a person”, he said.

Admitting that he had not seen Celluloid, Mr. Joseph said his comments were based on news reports and analyses. He said he was ready to withdraw his remarks if there was no reference to Karunkaran in the film.

Reiterating his stand on the issue, Mr. Muraleedharan, son of Karunakaran, said it did not require a genius to recognise the oblique reference to the former Chief Minister in the film. Mr. Muraleedharan, who was the first to react against the film, said the issue was aimed at triggering a cheap controversy to ensure box office returns.

Wading into the row, Mr. Achuthanandan said the Minister’s allegations against the award-winning film were inappropriate and unworthy of his position. He said Mr. Joseph’s remarks were encouraging a section of Congress workers who were intolerant to the film.

Celluloid, he said, had certain references to some leaders who were responsible for denying due recognition to J.C. Daniel. “Any attempt to impose public censoring against such criticism will affect cinema and literature. It is best left to the viewers to assess the worth of a film.”

Drawing a parallel with the threats held out by communal elements against Kamal Hasan for his film Viswaroopam, he slammed the attempt to malign Kamal and resort to violence against cinema theatres staging Celluloid.

In a press note issued here, Mr. Nadar flayed the attempt to attack Kamal and J.C. Daniel’s biographer Chelangadu Gopalakrishnan for their role in bringing historical facts to light.