A cinematic recreation of a catastrophic event — one that has touched an entire population one way or the other — places in front of the filmmaker possibilities and pitfalls in equal measure. The images from the unprecedented rains and floods that hit Kerala in 2018 are so fresh in memory, that the movie would easily be rejected if the recreation is not authentic enough. Yet at the same time, that familiarity and the emotions attached to it makes the job of the screenwriter easier as he just needs to create characters with a basic background story to fit into these situations.
In 2018, director and scriptwriter Jude Anthany Joseph sticks to this method. He spends the shorter initial half of the movie in introducing us to a set of characters who would expectedly be at the centre of the action when the floods hit. When the script gives a little extra focus to Anoop (Tovino Thomas), who has lied about his health condition to abandon military service because he is scared, we know that he would make a brave turn in the hour of crisis, but it still remains a well-written character.
Similar is the case when an arrogant man rejects a proposal for his daughter from a fishworker family, and pours scorn on their traditional line of work. We know that this man would learn his lesson when the fishermen arrive with their boats to save his family from the floods. Despite all this, most of these scenes work and leave an emotional impact. Again, the familiarity and the fresh-as-yesterday memories of the harrowing days accentuates the emotions.
As the action shifts into the lengthier half dealing entirely with the floods, the focus is placed almost entirely on a village, which stands in as a microcosm for Kerala and how it overcame the floods unitedly. At places, one does get the feeling of the filmmaker turning up the emotional and dramatic dials beyond the normal limits, especially in the extended scenes of a family having a child with special needs trapped in neck-deep water. But the flood scenes are elevated by their technical excellence, which is an achievement considering the limited budgets in Malayalam cinema. It succeeds at times in making us feel as if we are caught in one of those houses, with the water waiting to burst in. These scenes are so effective that for those who have actually gone through such situations, reliving it could be traumatic.
While the fishermen who became saviours are rightly placed at the centre of the film, 2018 sidelines the efforts of the government machinery during those days, just like how Aashiq Abu did with Virus on how Kerala overcame the Nipah Virus threat.
Jude Anthany Joseph’s 2018 is a moving reminder of the days when everyone in Kerala, irrespective of their religion, caste or their political inclinations, came together to help people in distress. Its humanitarian message and the context of its release somehow elevates the import of this film, making it deserving of the tagline... ‘The real Kerala Story’.
2018 is currently running in theatres