Review: 'The Kerala Story' hits you hard with a traumatic yet bold subject where Adah Sharma shines
The Kerala Story is a bold attempt when it comes to choosing such a controversial, sensitive subject and presenting it, but it could have been more crisp and clear.
Published: Thursday,May 04, 2023 19:31 PM GMT-06:00
The Kerala Story Review
With Vivek Agnihotri getting a film like 'The Kashmir Files' in the commercial arena, filmmakers kind of got a green signal to opt for such bold and controversial subjects. "The Kerala Story" is a movie that tackles a traumatic subject matter that sheds light on the conversion of Hindu and Christian girls to Islam in the state of Kerala and their subsequent involvement with extremist groups like the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Director Sudipto Sen takes on the challenge of presenting this sensitive and controversial topic in a feature film. The movie is a reminder of the risks involved in speaking up about certain aspects of religion in a country like India.
The Plot and Screen[play
The film follows the story of three girls: Shalini (Adah Sharma), Nimah (Yogita Bihani), and Geetanjali (Siddhi Idnani), who are manipulated by their Muslim roommate, Asifa (Sonia Balani), into converting to Islam. The movie is divided into two parts: the first half portrays the girls' conversion process, while the second half shows Shalini's journey as a member of ISIS and her eventual escape. Large chunks of the first half is straight up manipulation on your face, almost making you feel 'islamophobic.'
The jumps between timelines are well-executed, maintaining a balance between the two scenarios. However, the film's runtime can be problematic, as it feels stretched and heavy at times, given the traumatic subject matter.
Just Presenting or Preaching?
When a film deals with a sensitive topic or a real-life incident, it is crucial to handle it with utmost care. The challenge lies in delivering the message without appearing preachy or biased. The film must tread a fine line between being informative and not becoming a propaganda tool. This is particularly true when the subject matter pertains to contentious issues such as love jihad, conversion, and Sharia laws.
Here, when Asifa attempts to persuade other girls to embrace Islam, it seems heavy-handed and overtly dramatic, with the constant bombardment of the word "Allah" and the use of arguments like "only Allah is the real god" and "if you do not believe in Allah, you will burn in hellfire." These arguments come across as forceful and extreme, leaving the audience to wonder if the director has exaggerated the situation to make a point.
It is unclear how much of what is shown in the film is accurate to real-life situations, but the presentation of manipulation, abuse, deception, and helplessness is truly disturbing to watch.
Adah Sharma delivers a compelling performance as Shalini, showcasing her character's plight and state of mind when she is being brainwashed. She keeps up with the South Indian accent while delivering her dialogues, which adds to her performance's authenticity. Yogita Bihani's climax monologue is fiery and delivered with conviction. Siddhi Idnani and Sonia Balani also deliver commendable performances, meeting the expectations of their respective roles.
The Plot Holes
The film has a few loose ends that may leave the audience with questions. For instance, the lukewarm reactions of the family members when they learn of their daughter's conversion to Islam and the lack of backstory for Asifa's character may be considered plot holes.
The Setting and BGM
The setting plays a vital role in the movie's presentation, showcasing the breezy beaches and outskirts of Kerala when the romantic angle of the plot is highlighted. In contrast, the shattered houses, deserts of Iraq, and hollow homes create a sense of dread in the second half, adding to the drama and plight of the characters. The background score also adds to the tension when the characters almost fall into the trap of being converted.
The Kerala Story is a bold attempt when it comes to choosing such a controversial, sensetive subject and presenting it, but it does lack conviction and could have been more crisp and clear. Nevertheless, you can give it a watch to stay vigilant and informed.
Rating: ***(3/5) stars