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The Kerala Story is a 2023 Hindi drama that released theatrically on May 5th, 2023. Marketed as a “true story”, it tells the tale of a Kerala woman named Shalini who converts to Islam and ends up coerced into joining the Islamic State terrorist group.

The film proved highly controversial and divisive, facing bans, protests, and waves of litigation while also receiving promotion from India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party and there has been similar movies with controversies like The Kashmir Files and more. With lifetime box office earnings of ₹303 crore, it became one of the highest-grossing Latest Bollywood movies of 2023.

Storyline of The Kerala Story

The film follows Shalini Unnikrishnan, an optimistic young woman from Kerala who dreams of becoming a nurse to serve her community. However, her aspirations are soon corrupted when she enrolls in a local nursing college and befriends a group of friendly and charming Muslim students. Unbeknownst to Shalini, they are extremists pretending to be regular youths to manipulate her.

Gradually, through psychological manipulation and false promises, they coerce Shalini to convert from Hinduism to Islam, adopting the Muslim name Fatima Ba. Under threats and coercion, Shalini also abandons her family and friends against her will. Her life is completely taken over by the extremists who have befriended her.

the kerala story reviews
the kerala story reviews

Eventually, they force Shalini to accompany them to Afghanistan by misleading her about opportunities to study nursing abroad. But upon reaching an Islamic State stronghold, she is imprisoned along with other women converts from India and stripped of her documents and means of escape. Shalini descends into horrific abuse and trauma in captivity with no means to return to her home and old life in Kerala, which now seems forever lost.

Shalini’s Journey

The storyline focuses on the journey of protagonist Shalini from an optimistic nursing student full of hopes for her future to a victim of extremist psychological manipulation and coercion into religious conversion. From her home in Kerala to forcible captivity within Islamic State ranks in Afghanistan, Shalini undergoes harrowing exploitation and tragedy in the hands of those she considered friends. Her dreams of becoming a nurse to help people lie destroyed along with her identity, autonomy and peace of mind.

Premise of Forced Religious Conversions

The film bases its storyline on the contested Hindutva conspiracy theory of ‘Love Jihad’. As per this premise, Muslim men allegedly trick Hindu women into romantic relationships only to coerce them later into forced conversions to Islam. That’s in movies like Adipurush.

Shalini’s entire trajectory in the film fits this disputed premise as she gets manipulated into a conversion by seemingly friendly Muslim youths, who exploit her emotional and psychological vulnerabilities for their ideological extremist ends. By depicting this contested view of religious conversions as the reality, the film propagates the narrative of Hindu women facing widescale entrapment and victimization specifically by Muslim men out of communal agendas rather than any consensual interfaith relations.

the kerala story collection
the kerala story collection

So Shalini’s harrowing fate forms the flagship example used by the film to propagate the Love Jihad conspiracy as factual reality rather than an unproven theory dismissed by various investigative agencies.

Actors and Actresses in The Kerala Story Movie

The Kerala Story brings together a talented ensemble cast to depict its controversial storyline of religious conversion and radicalization. With acclaimed actress Adah Sharma portraying the pivotal lead role of Shalini/Fatima,

the film’s cast is a mix of seasoned as well as upcoming actors that dive into this complex subject.

Main Roles

Adah Sharma, known for films like 1920 and Commando,

brings her acting chops to the central role of Shalini Unnikrishnan/Fatima Ba. Her portrayal of an optimistic nurse falling prey to the sinister motives of pretend friends forms the crux of the film.

Yogita Bihani, Sonia Balani and Siddhi Idnani play other Kerala women similarly manipulated into giving up their faith and identities. Vijay Krishna, Pranay Pachauri, Pranav Misshra and Pranali Ghogare depict the extremist masterminds behind the religious coercion. Their acting aims to showcase the process of indoctrination and gradual transformation of educated women into radicalized agents.

Supporting Players

Veteran actress Devadarshini plays the emotional role of Shalini’s mother who loses her daughter first to religious conversion and then to captivity overseas. Her grief forms a subtext to Shalini’s own trauma.

Besides Devadarshini, the film has several character actors in minor roles as family, friends, collaborators and authority figures around the forcibly converted women. However their identities and specific contribution remains unclear.

the kerala story ott
the kerala story ott

Given the film’s politically volatile topic, the cast faced significant backlash around stereotypical depiction of

Muslim extremists as predatory masterminds radicalizing Hindu women. But they defended the story as a realistic portrayal of an urgent social issue regardless of controversy and calls for bans. The lead star cast shouldered heavy expectations to deliver a compelling performance despite divide public opinions and protests surrounding the film.

Response to The Kerala Story

Here’s how different sections of the society reacted to the Kerala Story movie:

Promotion by ruling party and Political opposition

The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) promoted the film for political messaging around Karnataka elections. Prime Minister Modi endorsed it, while BJP President Nadda held special screenings. The film was also made tax-free in BJP-ruled states.

In Kerala, the CPI(M) and Congress objected to the film for spreading “communal misinformation” in line with the Hindu nationalist agenda. In Tamil Nadu, protests were held by NTK and Muslim groups.

Public protests and Bans and litigation

The film faced public protests in Kerala and Tamil Nadu, impacting its screenings and performance.

Petitions filed to ban the film were dismissed by courts, but filmmakers had to remove claims of 32,000 real conversions. The West Bengal government banned it as hate speech, staying the ban after disclaimers on fictional status.

the kerala story director
the kerala story director

Aimed as a politically motivated film, The Kerala Story proved incredibly divisive – facing waves of protest

and litigation while simultaneously enjoying promotion from India’s Hindu nationalist ruling party. Marketed as a “true story” of forced religious conversions of Hindu women, its premise relies heavily on disproved conspiracy theories.

While commercially successful due to ruling party support, most film critics maligned

The Kerala Story for its propaganda-like Hindu nationalist political messaging. Accused of peddling Islamophobic stereotypes instead of an actual factual portrayal, the film’s critics seem to have outweighed its advocates.

Movie Info:

Producer
Sunshine Pictures
Available in
Feb 19, 2024
Quality option
480p | 720p | 1080p
Language
Hindi
Director
Sudipto Sen, Vipul Amrutlal Shah
Main Stars
Pranav Misshra, Adah Sharma, Yogita Bihani
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