Review: ‘The Kerala Story’ centers around the alleged radicalization and conversion to Islam of young Hindu women in Kerala, after which they are forced to join ISIS. The film states that it is a true story of three young girls from different parts of Kerala.
‘The Kerala Story’ begins in the interrogation room where Shalini (Adah Sharma) elaborates on her horrific and tragic past and explains why she is in a state of crisis. Their backstory revolves around four college students who have enrolled in a nursing school in Kasaragowda, Kerala. The story is narrated from the point of view of Shalini, who shares a close bond with her roommates Geetanjali (Siddhi Idnani), Nimah (Yogita Bihani) and Asifa (Sonia Balani). Unbeknownst to the others, Asifa has a secret agenda to expose her roommates and convert them to Islam. With the help of her male allies from outside, she ensures that the girls are radicalized and inducted into the religion using hallucinogenic drugs. After Shalini becomes pregnant, she is forced to marry someone other than the man who impregnated her, and then embarks on a long journey to Syria via Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Adah Sharma’s portrayal of Shalini who eventually changes her name to Fatima is powerful and emotionally stirring. His hard work in getting the Malayalam accent right is clearly visible on screen. While many of the actors, Yogita Bihani, Sonia Balani, and Siddhi Idnani are newcomers, they have tried their best to bring their stories alive. Director Sudipto Sen has chosen a subject that is both sensitive and complex and the way the film is treated makes it a tough watch with several disturbing scenes, moments and dialogues.
In the film, the director has successfully created moments that create a natural uneasiness among the audience. Striking a balance when handling sensitive subjects can be challenging, but Sudipto seems to be handling it with ease. Prashantanu Mohapatra has done an excellent job of capturing the scenes in Afghanistan and the Afghanistan-Pakistan border areas. However, the background score of the film is less. It’s overpowering and distracts from the narrative.
The hostel scenes featuring the girls are well executed, but the film also has dull and uninteresting moments, especially when Asifa attempts to brainwash and radicalize Shalini. It’s important to exercise caution during an extremely disturbing rape scene in an ISIS slave camp.
At some points, the film feels more like a tutorial in bigotry than entertainment for the audience. It also goes to extreme lengths to make its point, and it can be quite disturbing for viewers belonging to different communities in our country. After watching ‘The Kerala Story’, you might have several questions in your mind about the current state of the country. This thought provoking film is disturbing and definitely manages to leave an impact.