The Kerala Story
Onto the next release of the weekend and I finished watching the new Hindi film The Kerala Story which has been surrounded by controversy ever since its trailer was out. There has been an increase in films which do address true issues but with a backdrop of a socio-political drama, post The Kashmir Files. But it still ain’t all that easy to create an impact right away. The Kashmir Files did work due to its immaculate execution which not only did show the plight of the Kashmiri Pundits but also backed it up with in your face scenes of the mass killings and the eventual exodus. And while there are many ‘files’ lined up, the sole motive of a filmmaker should be to tell a human tale without having a need to grab eyeballs for the sake of it.
The trailer of The Kerala Story did stake a claim of 32000 young girls from Kerala being converted to Islam, only later to be recruited by the ISIS. Now I do not have any issue with the number(besides me sympathizing with all the innocent girls) provided you have facts to back your number. When questioned about the authenticity of this claim, the makers were immediately on the backfoot and eventually made a U-turn by saying that The Kerala Story was focused only on the three girls. It was this indecisiveness on behalf of the filmmakers that made me suspicious and skeptical about the eventual product. But with much hype around the film, I decided to venture into The Kerala Story with hope and a dash of skepticism. So then does the film impress and more importantly, is the film filled with facts or just propoganda, lets find out. I shall be strictly talking about the film and will not be venturing into any kind of politics surrounding it.
Story & Screenplay
Based on shockingly true events, The Kerala Story follows the story of three innocent girls who are brainwashed into converting to Islam and joining the ISIS from the state of Kerala. Now usually, I as a reviewer would not be so specific about the area of the drama or the faith of a person but because the film is tackling a sensitive subject, I had to allow myself some amount of detailing. The story here did have all the ingredients to be a powerful and gut-wrenching watch. It is so sad to even think of the plight of the youth who having been trapped in this mess, may not even have a chance to return. Lilewise a thought for their parents too who would be devastated. But, the screenplay here standing at a 130 odd minutes is filled with shoddy execution(and some unverified facts) that totally dilute the overall product.
There are a few things which are fundamentally wrong with the writing. And I shall try to highlight each of them bit by bit. The drama does open almost immediately with the introduction of the protagonist who is seen to be interrogated about her involvement with the ISIS. It is here that the film does branch out in this non-linear storytelling by sprouting two parallel timelines(other than the current one). This for me was fundamentally wrong as the viewers did not get a chance to fully invest in the journey of the protagonist. Had the creative decision been to simply start from the beginning and later make their way to the current times, the impact would have been far more. Another way to look at this was that the focus of the narrative was a little more on the past featuring a younger version of the protagonist from college. So if the ISIS portions were designed to not be given enough screen time, they would never have the kind of impacted expected.
The proceedings are fairly interesting but because the subject in itself had a lot of potential, I couldn’t help but think that the drama needed sharper writing. The events of the individuals being brainwashed did not come across the screen as effective enough(although the religious talks were effective upto an extent). They were a collection of events that tied together by an underlying theme which ideally should have created an impact but it did not quite. I also did feel that the focus in the storytelling was just not there. For instance, the drama could further have tapped into the emotions involving the parents as opposed to showing them almost as a passing reference. I can attribute this to the limitation of the medium of films which need to pack in a lot of content in a limited time frame.
I must admit, I was still moderately invested in the journey in the first and second acts of the drama. But it was the third and the final act that completely fell flat and how. The final act did try a lot to pack in, in terms of how the protagonist did get into the ISIS vs how she did plan to escape, with both tracks being executed parallelly. And so, the sentiments of the drama were divided too which did bring me back to the first point – on why to have three unfolding timelines. The entire sequence involving the eventual escape(and events before that) are so haphazard and shoddy that it did not create any sort of emotions for me.
I also wish to gently touch on the controversy that I had previously mentioned briefly. The makers did have a complete U-turn on the numbers of the women impacted. When you did do that, why would you still have a character in the film casually throwing these numbers without any facts to back them. Is it just to rile up the sentiments of the viewers? And why was only one state of India targetted, when the reality of the situation might be that this can happen to anyone from any state? Is this propoganda or not?- You Decide! The finale act is partially impactful simply because it did show actual footage of the victims from the film and I did feel that this was essentially the core of the film. It should have been a personalized journey with a balanced narrative as opposed to general statement being flung in the film. I can’t help but think that there was a heartbreaking story lying underneath the strokes of shoddy writing.
Dialogues, Music & Direction
The dialogues are a mixed bag here. While the lines were successful in conveying the eventual message of the film(partially), the Malayalam twang that you see in almost all characters was quite distracting. Why was this not a Malayalam film in the first place is the question that did pop up in my head. The music here is average and it really should have been better in terms of packing in the emotions. The BGM too is far too generic and not quite impactful. The cinematography is good and it did not shy away from capturing a few scenes of gore(faint-hearted, please be weary). The editing is alright yet I did feel that it wasn’t quite sharp enough. Director Sudipto Sen had such an emotional subject up his sleeve but the creative decision to only grab eyeballs did backfire here. His direction is quite shoddy and it doesn’t create any sort of an impact.
The performances are decent here but the Malayalam twang does stick out like a sore thumb in most characters. Vijay Krishna as Issak, Pranay Pachauri as Rameez and Pranav Misshra as Abdul have their moments to shine. Siddhi Idnani as Gitanjali is decent although the switch in her character wasn’t quite organic. Sonia Balani as Asifa is first rate and does a good job. Yogita Bihani as Nimrah is excellent and puts forth a powerful act. Adah Sharma as Shalini/Fathima is expressive through her eyes but doesn’t quite nail her performance. I feel a better actor would have done better justice to the character. It was in her character that the typical South Indian twang did standout thus diluted her overall performance.
The Kerala Story did have a gut-wrenching premise but its shoddy writing and execution just fails to have any sort of an impact. Available in a theatre near you.