Is it brainwash or whitewash?
That’s the debate Vipul Amrutlal Shah’s new production will spark off. Written by Suryapal Singh, Sudipto Sen and Vipul with Sudipto as the official director and Vipul credited as creative director, there’s no soft peddling or subtlety at work here. The conversion and indoctrination of vulnerable non-Muslim girls in Kerala makes you wince so much that oftentimes you have to remind yourself that this is not an exaggeration of the truth, this is the harsh reality that has been visiting Kerala.
There has been a heap of information pointing to terror organisations planting their agents in and around campus areas to identify and befriend young, emotionally pliable girls. Not just to bring many more from other faiths into the Islamic fold but to also brainwash them into turning suicide bombers and sex slaves of the ISIS.
Sen uses a non-linear, three-tiered time-space for his narration: interrogation in a UN detention centre, days of innocence in God’s own country where the indoctrination begins and the journey into turning a terrorist. The three go back and forth.
At its heart is Shalini Unnikrishnan (Adah Sharma), a nursing student who’s drawn to Islam by her devious roommate Asifa (Sonia Balani). Armed with a mandate to recruit, Asifa uses ‘Allah is the only protector’ to demolish Hinduism, polytheism, atheism and communism to lure Shalini, Nimah (Yogita Bihani) and Geetanjali (Siddhi Balani). Only Nimah Mathews from another strong Abrahamic faith stays unmoved while Asifa enlists the charms of personable young Muslim men to trap Shalini and Geetanjali into relationships that end in hell.
The good is that this is a story that needed to be told. With a perfect Malayali accent, Adah Sharma is immensely credible as Shalini-converted-to-Fatima. The supporting cast too puts in reliable performances.
The good-bad is that the manipulation and the ensuing cruelty of drugging, brainwashing, blackmailing, rape and violence against women and children is so gut-wrenching that it’s almost unwatchable. Because it’s so heavily disturbing, it’s repeat-worthy that one has to often tell oneself that this is how it truly has been with the victims of a well-organised terror network.
There is a familiarity in Asifa’s overbearing criticism of many isms. In Hinduism, they don’t thank God before a meal, they don’t know who to pray to because there are so many in the pantheon, gods like Rama can’t save their own wives and such other put-downs have been uttered with impunity and heard in many a TV debate. Hindus are casual with their religion, few have knowledge of any festival or ritual and they don’t have counter arguments to defend their faith. That’s brought out too by Shalini who’s stumped by Asifa and shrugs off even a Diwali celebration with her family.
On the other hand, the inhumanity and gender inequality in Shariah-governance, indoctrination of children, hands cut off for wearing lipstick, women not permitted to have phones, a wife’s duty is to service her husband and get knocked around by him even if she’s pregnant, are also familiar barbs at Islam.
So it’s not what Vipul and Sudipto say that’s off the mark. It’s the boring pace as Asifa unrelentingly sells Islam to Shalini, the obtrusively annoying background music and the overall length of the film that push it into the negative.
But ultimately, it’s ideology that will decide whether The Kerala Story deserves a watch or not.
I’d say, watch it for its courage in telling a scorching story that’s been whitewashed for too long, even if you have to sit through pockets of the unbearable.
Watch the trailer of “The Kerala Story”
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