Movies ...

2018 review: The Kerala story that’s drenched in humanity – Beyond Bollywood

Writer -director Jude Anthany Joseph’s incredible film showcases the true Kerala spirit during the 2018 flash floods. Tovino Thomas, Kunchacko Boban lead the stellar acts by its ensemble cast.

Rating: 4 / 5

By Mayur Lookhar

The opening frame throws a text something like, ‘a calamity is only news until it hits us hard’. Our mind was drawn to the 26/7 torrential rains in Mumbai, 2005, that paralyzed the city for two days. That was the closest time we Mumbaikars encountered the force of nature. 

Come the dawn of social media, Mumbai gathered attention each time when it rained heavily or even prematurely.  The #Mumbairains would flood social media trends.  Mumbai is the financial capital, but these trends also suggested of the emotional connection with the state. However, when nature’s fury struck other states, it seldom bagged attention like the troubles in Mumbai. The 2005 flash floods are a reminder that humanity must show same empathy compassion when such tragedies strike other states.

Writer-director Jude Anthany Joseph’s 2018 sensitizes us to the flash flood in the state of Kerala in 2018.  The tragedy occurred a day after the nation celebrated its 72nd Independence Day. This reviewer confesses to reducing the terrible tragedy, where close to 500 people died, to a mere news item.  Ah, if it was Mumbai, the nation, Indians over the globe would have poured their concern over social media.

We humbly apologies to our brothers and sisters of Kerala. We assure them that post this humbling experience of 2018, we will never forget the tragedy, the humanity that prevailed then.  Jude Anthany Joseph and his co-writer Akhil P. Dharmajan are inspired by the heroic tales of humanity in the worst of the calamities.

To call it survival tale, would be underwhelming.  2018 [2023] pays tribute to the many sung, unsung heroes. It salutes the undying human spirt in the most difficult times. The film opens reminding of the similar floods of 1999. Though very brief, Joseph doesn’t shy of suggesting the human role in upsetting the balance of nature.

2018 is largely told through the selfless acts, heroism of Anoop [Tovino Thomas], a failed Indian army cadet.  He longs to move out of God’s own country and shift to United Arab Emirates.  Ah, Tovino had similar dream in Meenal Murali [2021]. While he isn’t successful in his career, but the man has a golden heart. He is liked by most in his village, especially kids.  However, each time he passes by some bullies, the failed army man gets to hear – Sandese Aate Hai – iconic song from the film Border [1997]. Jeez, Malayali boys crooning a Hindi song in a Malayalam film?  The Hindi masses will see it as a pan-India dialogue, but we suspect it to be Anoop being perceived a fictitious army drop-out, and also mocking the then Bollywood jingoism.

As Anoop puts his life on the line to save many lives, the villagers, and the audience, to acknowledge that an Indian Army dropout too is good enough to be savior in such calamitous times.  The huge respect to the Indian Armed Forces is bound to attach audiences across the nation, and even the patriotic diaspora. Tovino Thomas only adds to his growing reputation. 

2018 lives up to its ‘everybody is hero’ billing as Joseph’s other principal characters, too, imbibe the same spirit.  There’s the state Home Secretary Shaji Punnoose [Kanchacko Boban] who is working tirelessly to limit the damage, and facilitate rescue efforts.  His pregnant wife [played by Sshivada] and daughter Sneha [Devananda] are rescued timely by the Indian Air Force and Anoop.  Nixon [Asif Ali] is hurt how his girl friend’s father turned away his proposal, leaving him and his fisherfolk family embarrassed. A tiff with his father sees the man leave the vicinity, but he chooses to be a hero in the crisis hour, In the process, he also embraces his roots.

Our exposure to Malayali cinema is limited and this it is difficult for us to recall the character names. Heroism, though, is never about vanity. All it takes is a moment to do what’s right. It’s their selfless acts that strike a chord. There’s one bearded poor character Sethupathy, who has evil designs. He reluctantly offers a ride to Rameshan [Vineeth Sreenivasan], who has somehow travelled to Dubai in the hope of saving his marriage. The crisis hour and the company of two fine men compels Sethupathy to abort his sinister mission.

The men are at the forefront of most rescue efforts, but the women, too, have kept the spirits alive with their undying spirit.  Holed up in relief centres – hospital, schools, places of worship, the women’s contribution cannot be undermined one bit. Manju [Tanvi Ram] is new to the village. The new teacher is as compassionate as Anoop. On her first day at school, she brings toffees for the children to win their confidence.  It reflects the woman’s humble character. Meanwhile, Joseph pays respect to journalists via Aparna Balamurali’s character – TV. reporter Ann Maria Jacob.

It’s remarkable how on most days, we live in a polarized world, but maybe it’s nature’s way to test the true human spirit in calamitous times.  Joseph’s film pays tribute to that resilience, humanity where people rise above individual, social identities to save human lives.

Hindi market is currently talking about Sudipto Sen’s Hindi film The Kerala Story [2023] that has touched upon a serious issue in Sothern state. It, however, comes with the polarization charge by some critics, rival politicians. Sen’s brave and direct approach to address radical Islam is totally opposite to Joseph’s subtle political discourse.

2018 mentions the then Union Home Affairs Minister Kiren Rijiju and his central government offering their support. The then Kerala government, which is rival to Bharatiya Janata Party, though is also of the view that they need more support from the Central government.  While the film respects the ruling ideology, it doesn’t even shy away from acknowledging the concerns over certain minority – as often charged by the rival Saffron party.  Unlike The Kerala Story, Joseph doesn’t take the harsh route. Instead, they smartly put the onus on the particular community to self-introspect. All that Joseph does is to get a humble Muslim character say, “This is our chance to improve our image”.

Joseph’s Kerala is not represented as any utopian state where every human respects each other equally. Joseph’s characters represent different cultures, classes within the state. The priest initially being reluctant to opening the church’s doors to all is just one way of staying away from utopian world.

The film largely concentrates on saving lives. Maybe, there was one too many rescue efforts in this 155-minute film. There was little concern that 2018 [2023] would perhaps end up as a quasi-super-hero film. The few tragedies, though, give a sense of the loss, and the magnitude of the calamity.  

Time and the calamitous subject perhaps limited the chance to explore the Anoop-Manju relationship. They meet, like each other, there’s a fine song and then we see Anoop distributing his own wedding cards. The other minor con is the remarkable mobile network in Kerala during torrential rains, lightning.  Hey, if a certain creative liberty can help to save lives, we are all for it.

2018 shines for its gripping writing, taut screenplay, the all-round stellar performance, music and technical brilliance.  Child artistes cast a spell on you. There’s Malikappuram’s [2022] Devananda in a little role. Then there is this [character] boy Abin whose cries shake your soul. The presence of two Polisth tourists caught in this stormy weather and being warmly received by the locals is a boost for the Kerala tourism. The director could have done with slightly better actors here.

Give its watery plot, 2018 stuns you with Akhil Gorge’s cinematography and master production design by Mohandas.  Once it pours, the rain only stops in the end. The subject was challenging, but Mohandas creates the perfect stormy environment for the film to breed in. It made Akhil George and his team’s task to capture the captivating, immersive shots.  The compelling VFX brings a sense of reality onto the screen. Local audiences are best to judge the few songs, but we found them soothing.

Hindi audiences have seen a similar valiant tale in Abhishek Kapoor’s Kedarnath [2018], That film, though, harped more on the inter-faith love story with the rescue acts forming the final chapter of the film. 2018 is flooded with the storm and many moving stories. Joseph’s very humane handling of the subject is a huge approval of his direction.  Calamity is an opportunity for humanity to unite, but the film also subtly calls upon citizens to show the same care, respect for one another on a daily basis.

2018 [2023] released in theatres across India from 5 May.

You may also like