The Kerala Story (2023) Movie Review – A controversial story backed by strong performances

A controversial story backed by strong performances

India is a secular state that inhibits millions of people from many different religions. While the majority of the country’s population follows Hinduism, 20.2% of India’s population includes people of all different religions including Islam, Christianity, Sikhism and more. Religious clashes are something that naturally occur in India from time to time and there is a boatload of movies inspired by such true events.

The Kerala Story is reportedly one such movie backed by the Hindu religious sentiment that touches on topics of religious indoctrination, political ideology, Islamophobia, ISIS recruitment and more. The 2023 movie follows the story of three young nursing school female students, Shalini Unnikrishnan, Geetanjali Menon and Nimah Menon who get trapped by a group of people.

The devious organization tries to drive these young girls away from their own religion and indoctrinates them with beliefs of their own. One of the three women, Shalini (also known as Begum Fatima) is then trafficked to Afghanistan where she is used as a sex worker. The Kerala Story tells the story of these three women and, in particular, Shalini’s attempt to escape the Afghani base camp.

The movie allegedly presents the true story of these three victims who are real people, ending with testimonies from Geetanjali’s parents and Nimah Mathew who narrate their experience after they were brainwashed and manipulated by members of this organization. The movie can be a controversial watch since it attacks the religious beliefs of one religion and presents one side of the story.

While human trafficking of women for sex work and more is a grave problem that persists in many different countries around the world, this movie shows the alleged truth of one particular group of people. The story, though controversial, is gripping and keeps you interested. Keeping the religious jargon aside, the performances of the main leads – the four women – are commendable.

Adah Sharma does a great job at playing Shalini/Fatima, a woman with many facets. She perfectly shows the emotions of a girl who is driven away from her family; a wife who is exploited – sexually, mentally and emotionally; a mother who is separated from her infant; and a citizen who is stripped of her nationality to be called a terrorist.

However, the character of Shalini is flawed, portraying a very naïve girl who lives in her own world, oblivious of the things around her.

Yogita Bihani as Nimah Mathew does a commendable job with her level-headedness and gives an emotional performance when she studies and fights against a problem that had potentially ruined her own life and that of her friends. Sonia Balani as Asifa, the mole responsible for the religious indoctrination does a good job with her performance in a negative role. While other characters in the movie do a mediocre job, it is the female leads that keep viewers hooked till the end.

The movie follows a non-linear narration with many flashbacks and flash-forwards. However, by the end of The Kerala Story, all loose ends are tied together and we see what finally happens with the three girls. The ending of this one is not satisfying because it presents the harsh reality of what happens with accused terrorists who actually are innocent pawns.

The Kerala Story has a really gripping background score with Sunidhi Chauhan’s dynamic vocals keeping you engaged in the opening act with the song ‘Pagal Parinday’. The movie is a good one-time watch that narrates the story of 32,000 alleged women from all over the world that were brainwashed by a terrorist organisation.

While the number of victims sparks a debate unto itself, the movie does have some truth to it when it comes to presenting the practice of religious indoctrination and conversion.

Aside from touching on the central topic of indoctrination, the movie also skirts around sensitive issues like Love Jihad, i.e. When a Muslim male/female marries a non-Muslim and converts them, along with female sex trafficking. The movie has disturbing scenes dealing with sexual assault, violence, gore, as well as suicide, which makes it a hard watch for sensitive audiences.

With that being said, The Kerala Story focuses on a lot of religious and cultural sentiments making this a controversial story from the get-go. The performances keep this movie afloat but it’s definitely going to be a polarizing watch.


Read More: The Kerala Story (2023) Ending Explained

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  • Verdict - 5/10

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