Cast: Adah Sharma, Pranav Mishra, Yogita Bihani, Saniya Mir, Eleena Koul, Siddhi Idnani, Sonia Balani
Director: Sudipto Sen
Rating: Half a star (out of 5)
God’s Own Country is about to be decimated, bacha lijiye, the battered and bruised protagonist of The Kerala Story implores. But saving Kerala is certainly not the purpose of this shoddy film aimed at telling the world that the state is sitting on a ticking time bomb. Islamist terrorists scout for female suicide bombers in the state, the film asserts without a modicum of moderation and proceeds to demonise a people.
Professedly based on “many true stories”, The Kerala Story, directed by Sudipto Sen, isn’t really interested in the truth as a whole. Taking the cases of a handful of missing girls, it spins a yarn that would have us believe that Kerala has contributed thousands of foot soldiers to ISIS over the years. Needless to say, that claim isn’t backed up with either evidence or genuine concern.
No more than a lengthy WhatsApp forward in the guise of a movie, The Kerala Story would have been deemed a passable vehicle for a half-baked conspiracy theory had the film not been as laughably inept, both in terms of its making and its tonalities. It cannot by any stretch of the imagination be accused of being a balanced investigation.
It is easy to see that the screenplay written by Suryapal Singh, producer Vipul Amrutlal Shah (who is also credited as creative director) and Sudipto Sen is the handiwork of gentlemen who do not so much as have a working knowledge of the state and the people that it is about.
Never does the film that claims to tell the story of Kerala look like it has been shot in that part of the world. Nor do the actors – their accents are as horrid as the film – look remotely like people who were born and raised in Kerala.
A stray shot late in the film is enough to sum up what is wrong with The Kerala Story apart from its lopsided, selective and alarmist theorising about the state’s global terror links. On a beach stands a dried-up tree that looks like a prop put there for no particular reason.
The beach does not resemble any of the beaches of Kasaragod, where large parts of the film are set. The tree, too, is completely out place – it bears testimony to how utterly clueless and ham-fisted the makers of The Kerala Story are.
Now to the story for whatever it is worth. Fathima Ba (Adah Sharma), formerly Shalini Unnikrishnan, is questioned in a UN incarceration centre by a panel of stone-faced officials. The girl narrates her ordeal. Singled out by a Salafi centre in Kerala and led to a point of no return, she ends up among terrorists who have no patience for women who cross the line.
“I was brainwashed,” Fathima/Shalini says. Yes, that is a good reason why a girl from Thiruvananthapuram would fall in love with a Muslim, become pregnant, marry another Muslim man, convert to Islam and agree like, in her own words, a “robotic slave” to embark on a dangerous mission in Syria. By the time we are halfway through The Kerala Story, it is hard to decide who is more brainwashed – the protagonist or the makers of this insidious film.
The writing is consistently cringeworthy. The acting is no better. The script gives the girls lines so stilted that that collectively they are an act of cinematic terror. The Kerala Story is a pathetic piece of cinema, if one can call it that, without a single saving grace. It is out to vilify an Indian state on flimsy grounds.
Shalini joins a nursing college in Kasaragod and moves into a hostel room shared by three other girls – Nimah Matthews (Yogita Bihani) from Kottayam, Geetanjali Menon (Siddhi Idnani) from Kochi and Asifa Ba (Sonia Balani) from Malappuram.
No prizes for guessing, the sole Muslim girl in the quartet is up to no good. She has an agenda. The three others – two Hindus, one Catholic – walk into the trap, their eyes wide open. The conversations that the girls have are beyond silly. They discuss religions, Gods, rituals and the pros and cons of premarital sex. Unbelievably vacuous prattle.
Stupidity scales greater heights when a purported turning point written into the plot hinges on the improbable fact that the two Hindu girls – Shalini and Geetanjali – do not know that Christians say grace and Muslims pray before every meal.
The writers of The Kerala Story are obviously targeting their core audience who they clearly do not think much of. One would be surprised if they actually believe that it is logical for two Hindu girls in a state as multi-religious as Kerala to be unaware of the basic cultural mores of adherents of other faiths.
In a police station scene, one of the girls rattles off numbers to prove that Kerala is heading for trouble. She claims that more than 30,000 girls have been converted to Islam and weaned away to fight for ISIS. She quotes a former chief minister of the state as saying that Kerala will become an Islamic state in 20 years. The film makes no attempt to tell the audience where the numbers and that fears have emanated from.
The girl who cites the 30,000 figure ends her diatribe with a declaration that she will come back to the police with unimpeachable evidence. I won’t stop, she says. She echoes the writers and the director of The Kerala Story – they have no evidence worth the name but they keep going on regardless because logic and truth are not what they are in quest of.
That, then, is the story – The Kerala Story is a film so bad that its incompetence would have provided some entertainment had it not played so loose and fast with facts and twisted them to suit its explicit, egregious ends.