This isn’t a movie review of Fahadh Faasil’s Trance. Rather, it’s a look into the problematic rise of cult practices in Kerala. The death of an 11-year-old girl from Kannur due to a faith healer’s intervention has opened up the occult box of Kerala’s cult following practices.
The 2020 Malayalam movie Trance, directed by Anwar Rasheed, tells the story of a failed motivational speaker. He is hired to dupe people by becoming a spiritual leader who can heal people from their disabilities. As he gains recognition and a legion of followers, he understands the tricks of the preaching trade. He created a cult empire from scratch by taking advantage of the general public’s weaknesses.
The one incident in the movie that caught my attention was when Thomas (Vinayakan) chooses to believe in a spiritual figure than a hospital to save his ailing daughter’s life. He waits in line for days for the ‘miracle drink’ by Pastor Joshua Carlton (Fahadh Faasil) that was going to cure his daughter. Despite his wife desperately crying to take his daughter to the hospital, he puts faith in the Pastor’s words. Mind you, this is someone who he has not met but watched his miracles through a television screen.
Doesn’t this remind you of the father who took his 11-year-old Fathima to a faith healer instead of a doctor to heal her sickness? She could have been saved if she wasn’t kept under the spiritual examination of thirty-five-year-old Muhammad Uwais for five days.
On October 26th, when Fathima developed feverish symptoms, her father took her to Uwais. He was heavily influenced by the spiritual practices of Uwais, who gained a cult following in a matter of eight years. Fathima was forced to fast and recite Quranic verses. On the 5th day, when her condition worsened, she was immediately taken to the hospital. However, she died.
Like any other spiritual cult, he was no stranger to controversy. The police investigation against Uwais led to exposing Kannur’s breeding ground of faith healers, spiritual practitioners, and cult leaders. The movie Trance is an expose of how cult leaders can take control of lives, psychologically.
Many studies have shown that psychologically vulnerable people tend to follow cult leaders because of the stability they seek. Cult leaders, on the other hand, prey on these kinds of people because it’s easier to control them. Not in a forceful manner. Rather, in a way that focuses on their vulnerability to gain trust.
How do they amass such a huge following, you may wonder?
The trick lies in maintaining a relationship. A strong one, in fact. This comes down to understanding people. Extracting information from them to understand the turmoil within them. Getting to know them better. Becoming friends. It is a form of manipulation.
Spiritual leaders like Muhammad Uwais gained the trust of people by setting an example. Instead of taking his pregnant wife to give birth in the hospital, everything was arranged at home. His wife gave birth at home. Throughout his consultation with his followers, he would often urge them not to seek treatment with doctors or go to hospitals as it is the pathway to hell. The example of his wife’s smooth delivery got people to believe his words. Once you get a certain amount of people to believe you, the word starts to spread. People get attracted to you.
Cult leaders, then, thrive on the attention and power they get. The formula is simple.
The problem lies when people’s lives are at risk. Understanding the difference between reality and spirituality is questioned when it comes to the definition of a cult following. In the case of 11-year-old Fathima, she would have survived if she was given proper medical attention. Similarly, in the case of Thomas from Trance, if his child was given immediate medical attention instead of spurting out Pastor Joshua Carlton’s prayers, she would have lived to see another day.
You may say that Trance is just another Malayalam movie. But the incidents that have played out recently tell another story.