Photo of Indian actress falsely linked to film on women converts joining Islamic State

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An Indian actress who defended a controversial film about women joining the Islamic State group has been targeted with a photo falsely shared as her posing with her Muslim husband. The posts criticised Devoleena Bhattacharjee for speaking out in support of "The Kerala Story", which critics have branded anti-Muslim, while herself being married to a Muslim. However, the photo shows Bhattacharjee with a co-star, not her husband. The posts also claim she starred in "The Kerala Story", which is not true.

"Here zealots, meet your brother-in-law Shahnawaz Sheikh, who is the husband of 'Kerala Story' actress Devoleena Bhattacharya," reads a Hindi-language Facebook post from May 16.

The photo shows Indian TV actress Devoleena Bhattacharjee wearing traditional Hindu wedding attire and posing alongside a man.

The actress reportedly married Shahnawaz Sheikh -- who is Muslim -- in December 2022 (archived link).

Screenshot of a Facebook post sharing the false claim, taken on May 20, 2023

The photo surfaced in similar posts here and here on Facebook after the actress defended "The Kerala Story", which critics have accused of stoking hatred against India's 200-million strong Muslim minority (archived link).

India's Hindu nationalist prime minister Narendra Modi has praised the film, which wildly exaggerates the number of Hindu women converting to Islam and joining the Islamic State group (archived link).

Bhattacharjee tweeted that her husband "appreciated" the film and did not feel it was against his religion (archived link).

Social media users criticised Bhattacharjee and appeared to believe the picture showed her with her husband.

"Welcome in Islam and very congratulations," one comment read.

"She was the lead actor in the film," said another.

Co-star, not husband

A reverse image search on Google found the photo in a report which said it showed Bhattacharjee with Vishal Singh, her co-star in Hindi-language soap opera "Saath Nibhaana Saathiya".

The report by news website Mid-day dispelled rumours that the pair had married and clarified that the photo showed Singh attending Bhattacharjee's wedding to a different man (archived link).

"While the photos and videos spread across the internet like a wildfire, both Vishal and Devoleena remained tight lipped and none of them came forward to confirm the wedding," Mid-day reported.

Singh posted the photo of him and Bhattacharjee on Instagram (archived link).

Bhattacharjee later confirmed her marriage to Shahnawaz Sheikh in an Instagram post (archived link).

Moreover, Bhattacharjee is not listed among the cast of "The Kerala Story" on the film's IMDb page (archived link).