Jude Anthany Joseph’s hugely profitable survival drama 2018 has been credited with saving the Malayalam film industry which, like its Hindi counterpart, has been struggling to win back audiences after the coronavirus pandemic. 2018, released in Kerala on May 5 and now dubbed in Hindi, assembles a staggering cast of acting talent. It appears that nearly everybody of note is here, doing their bit to boost business just as their characters in the film join hands to save lives.
Indeed, Joseph’s account of the catastrophic 2018 floods in Kerala, written with Akhil P Dharmajan, is introducing actors even after the interval. Spread over 150 minutes, 2018 is a mosaic of the experiences of several characters with the impact of incessant rain, disastrous environmental policies, and nature’s fury. Like Aashiq Abu’s Virus (2018), about the Nipah outbreak in Kerala in 2018, Joseph’s film celebrates the contributions of ordinary citizens in a time of acute crisis.
Tovino Thomas – most familiar to non-Malayalam audiences as the superhero from Minnal Murali – leads an estimable cast. Thomas plays Anoop, a former Army soldier who, like the pug in the Vodafone commercials, is always happy to help.
The small town where Anoop lives will soon bear the brunt of a cataclysmic downpour. As the clouds pour unrelenting havoc on the earth, numerous characters rise to the occasion, among them a fisherman and his sons, a Tamil truck driver, an Abu Dhabi-returned executive and a television network head who sets the alarm bells ringing earlier than the government.
The roster of actors is almost too long to mention – Indrans, Kunchako Boban, Lal, Asif Ali, Aju Varghese, Aparna Balamurali, Jaffar Idukki, Narain, Kalaiyarasan. Varghese stars in a comical sub-plot as a driver tasked with ferrying a Polish couple around.
Boban plays an official at the government’s disaster management cell. Lal represents the fisherfolk who provides invaluable assistance to the state government by using their boats for rescue operations. Asif Ali plays a struggling model who, like so many others in the movie, steps up when the situation reaches a breaking point.
The hero of the loosely structured narrative is Thomas’s Anoop, whose ready smile and broad-chested charm are put to good use. If a team of big-name actors selflessly depict walk-on parts, another team of stellar technicians recreate the floods to almost worrying detail.
Joseph, working closely with cinematographer Akhil George, production designer Mohanan and the visual effects provided by Mindstein Studios, dunks us right into the action. Whether it is the massive pools of water that destroy homes and take lives, or the relief camps set up for the displaced, or even the raging Arabian Sea itself, Joseph ensures that his recreation of a well-documented event is superbly detailed, never tacky, and always credible.
Several heart-stopping moments ensue as humans struggle to swim to safety. Some of the sequences are milked for maximum effect. There is an abundance of water and no shortage of tears as the flood victims struggle to combat a situation beyond their understanding.
Is it overstretched? Yes. Is it digressive? Sure. Is it excessively sentimental? Of course. Does it lack complexity? Affirmative. Is it affecting? Without doubt.
Moving back and forth in time, 2018 aims to be the definitive account of the floods. The film is stacked with humans, but its most impressive feat is technical in nature. Just like the people of Kerala used whatever was at hand to save themselves, 2018 deploys every available cinematic resource to craft an absorbing and engrossing chronicle of a disaster specific to Kerala but also universal for anybody who has learnt to fear climate change.