The Kerala Story Review: The film’s approach to depicting the perils of religious indoctrination is ironically reflected in every scene, as it attempts to manipulate and influence its audience.
Sudipto Sen’s thought-provoking work, “The Kerala Story,” caters to an audience that strongly holds a belief. The belief is that Kerala serves as a breeding ground for Islamic State recruitment. It portrays the region as teeming with Muslim men who ensnare countless women, employing either persuasive tactics or force. These men then subsequently dispatch them to Syria to serve as both fighters and sex slaves. However, the screenplay, which brims with controversy, co-written by Suryapal Singh and producer Vipul Amrutlal Shah (also credited as the “creative director”), presents a series of “Facts and Figures” that has been widely disputed.
Sen, who previously directed the documentary “In the Name of Love!” (2022) on the same subject, now utilizes the tools of fiction to bolster his argument. He argues that sinister motives underlie every interaction between Hindus and Muslims. The film incorporates intense close-up shots, a continuous haunting background score, and depictions of violence reminiscent of the medieval era.
The overarching target of the movie is Islam itself. It is portrayed as a religion whose inherent value system predisposes its followers to extremist ideologies. As the protagonist, Shalini (played by Adah Sharma), enters the hostel room of a nursing college, she encounters a Hindu woman (Siddhi Idnani), a Christian (Yogita Bihani), and Asifa (Sonia Balani).
What is the Storyline of “The Kerala Story”?
Asifa, using her religious devotion as a facade, reveals her affiliation with the Islamic State. She skillfully and ruthlessly ensnares her roommates, who prove to be highly impressionable, into her web of influence. Despite being unaware of the concept of Hell, Adah and her friends are easily convinced by Asifa that wearing a hijab provides protection against harassment. Consequently, they begin to veil their heads and engage in relationships with Muslim men.
In due course, Shalini falls victim to a deceitful conversion to Islam. She adopts the name Fatima and embarks on a journey to Afghanistan with her sexually deviant husband. The couple ultimately aims to reach Syria. In Afghanistan, Shalini bears witness to relentless acts of brutality, with corpses scattered across the landscape like untamed grass.
What Does the Movie Portray?
Almost every sequence in the 138-minute film reinforces its portrayal of Islamic thought. One of the milder assertions, given the larger context, is the declaration that Allah is the only true god, and Islam is the sole religion deserving of existence. A cleric, frustrated by the slow progress in converting victims, advises his followers to “bring them closer, drug them, engage in sexual acts with them, and if possible, impregnate them.” This reprehensible advice is meticulously carried out and depicted in a disturbingly vivid manner.
The movie effectively utilizes various aspects of reality to substantiate its interpretation of why a few Muslims from India joined the Islamic State or why individuals choose to convert to Islam. Specific locations in Kerala, such as Kasargod and Mallapuram, are portrayed as perilous recruitment grounds. Asifa’s ringtone features the word “Allah,” as if having a ringtone associated with one’s faith is inherently suspicious.
A poster in Shalini’s boyfriend’s abode boldly declares, “Nationalism is haram. Muslim is your identity.” Furthermore, a dialogue connects the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb to the Islamic State. In an attempt to fend off accusations of Islamophobia, the film portrays every Indian Muslim character as an extremist. It even features a lament about conversions.
Shalini’s friend, Naima Mathew, exclaims, “The entire state of Kerala is sitting on a time bomb!”. This sentiment reflects the precarious situation they believe God’s own country is facing. It invokes the Chinese proverb that serves both as a curse and a reflection of the turbulent times humanity finds itself in – “May you live in interesting times.”
In Sen’s narrative, the film strategically weaves together elements. These elements not only provoke thought but also perpetuate stereotypes and misconceptions about Islam. By portraying Indian Muslims as fanatics, the movie attempts to shield itself from accusations of Islamophobia. It even goes so far as to include a song lamenting the act of conversion, further fueling the underlying agenda.
While the movie purports to address the perils of religious indoctrination, it paradoxically resorts to similar tactics by employing dramatic close-ups, a mournful musical score, and graphic depictions of violence to sway the audience’s emotions and reinforce its own narrative. In doing so, it risks perpetuating the very indoctrination it claims to critique.
In conclusion, Sudipto Sen’s “The Kerala Story” presents a narrative that seeks to highlight the dangers of religious indoctrination. However, it ultimately falls victim to its own manipulative tactics. By selectively portraying Indian Muslims as extremists and perpetuating stereotypes, the film undermines its potential to engage in a thoughtful and nuanced exploration of the subject matter. It is important to approach such narratives with a critical eye and strive for a more comprehensive understanding of religious diversity and its complexities.