A film review, in many ways, is a perspective. If one were to be honest, it is history that will judge a film best particularly with respect to the intentions of a filmmaker and the veracity of their claims. In the case of Vipul Amrutlal Shah’s production The Kerala Story, it has been in the news for a while now. While the makers have consistently defended their work, the only way to judge this film was by watching it. Starring Adah Sharma, Yogita Bihani, Sonia Bilani and Siddhi Idnani, the film is two hours long and is more or less engaging throughout.
Director Sudipto Sen does not waste any time in getting to the point. Rather than following a linear narrative, Sen skillfully chooses to go back and forth in time, this way, he succeeds in gaining his viewer’s unflinching attention. In one moment you are in the midst of Kerala’s lush greenery and the very next, you are transported to barren nauseating terrains stretching out into oblivion.
It is hard to write a review without delving into the sensitive aspects of what the film aims to say. There are four women at the helm. Of them, two are Hindus, one a practicing Christian and one Muslim. Adah Sharma as Shalini makes the most of this opportunity as a gullible college student who turns into an indoctrinated victim. Her transformation from Shalini to Fatima sees her undergo a massive adulterated change yet she retains a bit of her innocence throughout. After a string of unsuccessful attempts at garnering the attention of the Hindi film-going audiences, this performance might stand out in her filmography. Sonia Balain plays Asifa the most audacious of the lot. Yogita Bihani as Nimah and Siddhi Idnani as Geetanjali complete the list of friends around whom the entire story revolves.
Sen’s screenplay largely concerns itself with how the alleged entrapment of Hindu girls work. For those unaware, the term ‘love jihad’ was first used by the Catholic Church in Kerala. He blames deracination for their predicament. He seems to suggest that atheists and Hindus, who have no particular interest in their religion, tend to get radicalized faster that those who are practicing believers. This comes across in two instances, but more vividly when one of the characters blames her father for teaching her about “foreign ideas like communism” before educating her about her own culture and religion.
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As the diabolical design unfolds, the portrayal of the parents as mere helpless bystanders only adds to the agony. There are scenes of graphic violence which may perturb the viewers. The performances become the victim of a few liberties. Hindi spoken by the characters is exponentially more than what it is in Kerala. The intent here is to make the audience understand what is being said. However, this attempt at a peculiar concoction of Hindi infused in lengthy Malayalam dialogues seems forced. Somehow, in places, the characters are able to get the accent right but the language spoken by them comes across as grossly unconvincing. Perhaps those who do not speak Malayalam will not even come to know of it.
The locations depicting Afghanistan seem to be shot in Ladakh. The terrains look convincing. Music, barring its use in a few places, add to the haunting aura that lingers throughout the film. Kerala Story is a technically sound film and might interest even those who oppose it.
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