It’s easy to feel superior to The Kerala Story, but despite the glaring ineptitude of its directorial vision and the ham-handed storytelling, this is a cultural product that we have to engage with as critics because it’s dealing with subjects that are part of a public discourse. Whether or not anyone watches The Kerala Story in cinemas or elsewhere, the fact that it demonises Kerala’s Muslims and suggests radicalisation is limited to one religion, makes it dangerous.
The film would like you to believe that even if the evidence is lacking, the experiences are there for anyone who wants to listen. For a country in which so many feel unheard and unseen, these are potent and persuasive messages, even when they’re packaged in hilariously bad writing and direction.
Director Sudipto Sen has chosen as his starting point a topic that is complex and worth examining — the allure of extremist organisations to young people — but within a few minutes, it becomes clear that The Kerala Story is only interested in pushing propaganda.
If The Kerala Story felt any responsibility towards the real women who have inspired the characters in the film, then one assumes the writers would have made some effort to grant them intelligence, if not agency. However, at every turn, Shalini (Adah Sharma), Geetanjali (Siddhi Idnani) and Nimah (Yogita Bihani) are impressionable to the point of being ridiculous.
The women subjects in The Kerala Story are simply an excuse to introduce the audience to Muslim characters who are Whatsapp forwards come to life. Every single Muslim character in The Kerala Story is evil and lives only to forward what they think is the Islamic State’s (ISIS) agenda. Not that factual accuracy should be expected of either propaganda or mainstream cinema, but multiple mainstream and independent media platforms have found the ‘facts’ in The Kerala Story to range from dubious to wrong.