The Kerala Story
Setting aside the (in)accuracy of the statistics, Islamic radicalization in Kerala is a palpable reality that needed a voice. Sudipto Sen’s The Kerala Story with producer Vipul Shah serving as a ‘creative director’ is the kind of cinema that walks on very thin ice. The charges of propaganda cinema will follow Vipul Shah for a very long time.
But here is the thing: .the film holds together as it is a story well told. Sudipto Sen has a sound sense of screenplay.Rather than rattle off numbers and show off his researched material on conversion in Kerala, he concentrates on telling the story of the protagonist’s journey, geopolitical and emotional , from a chirpy fun-loving dangerously adventurous Hindu Kerala girl Shalini to a sinister misbegotten ISIS trained terrorist who strays into a Syrian violence.
It is a frightening journey. The narrative moves at a breakneck speed with locations that match the real topography and actors who are not great performers but seem to instinctively know they are participating in an expose whose sum-total is much larger than its parts. The end-result is a curiously engaging experience with some parts showing the halpless anguish of the radicalized protagonist being deeply moving.
The accents, whether the Malayali or cross-border Islamic, are bit too thick and sometimes border on the caricaturish. But the intention and purpose of the plot—to call out a brutal practice which threatens to turn Kerala into a state of anarchy—is never subverted even when the melodrama comes in the way of the storytelling.
The storytelling and the soundtrack are over-saturated, as they ought to be.A mood of desperate anxiety courses through the veins of this drama of distorted loyalties. There is a secondary character, a girl named Geetanjali(played ably by Siddhi Idnani) who after being radicalized blames her father for not inculcating into her the same sense of pride in Hinduism that Islam does in their young.
I don’t think the antidote to the poison of religious bigotry is some of the same on the other end. I don’t buy the film’s politics. But it works as story of religious subversion. Adaah Sharma instils a huge amount of faith in her portrayal of a faith-striven youngster.
The Kerala Story may not be an illustration of Great Cinema. But as a cautionary story on radicalization, it needs to be seen. And heard.It also breaks the myth that big stars pivot a film to success.