Director: Jude Anthany Joseph
Writers: Akhil P Dharmajan, Jude Anthany Joseph
Cast: Tovino Thomas, Shebin Benson, Kunchacko Boban, Aparna Balamurali, Asif Ali
Early on in Jude Anthany Joseph’s 2018, we get an establishing shot we’ve seen so often in our movies that we’re primed to dismiss it as another small-town cliche. We’ve just been introduced to the village folk and the happy, hilly village they’re residents of and right at the centre is a lean chapel. The director uses a crane shot here that takes us up from ground-level until it rests on the cross that overlooks this village. In another film, this is just another symbol to show us how God remains a watchful guardian, ensuring the safety of the people. Yet it takes us more than two hours to understand why Jude chose this particular shot to establish this village. When the entire place sinks in 2018’s deluge, this tall chapel sinks with it too. Not only does it show us the depth of the water that has poured in, but it brings one of the film’s heroes face to face with a statue of Jesus. When all hope is lost, how beautifully poetic is this image to remind us of the many nobodies who doubled up as Gods to become our guardian.
This feeling of surprise becomes the norm in a film we may have underestimated at the beginning. Not only does the writer-director find clever payoffs for seemingly inconsequential details we may have noticed, but he takes it a step further to ensure that this cleverness is felt in the gut more than in the head. Another such idea is the way we see a roof tile falling into a classroom when a new teacher takes charge. We dismiss this too as a silly joke to show us another crumbling government school. The payoff for this comes later when a helicopter needs to hover over this building, sending these tiles flying all over. Dilapidated sure, yet it is this modest school that becomes a shelter for all those who’ve lost their homes.
One of the many reasons why such moments hit us hard is because Jude chooses to split the film into a shorter one-hour portion before the interval and then a longer uninterrupted sequence that focuses on thrilling rescue operations. The sound of rain (Vishnu Govind has done the sound) becomes such a constant in the background here that we’re hit with silence the second we cut to a time and place without rain. Not just in terms of sound, but the juxtaposition between places evolves organically to give us the feeling of an event that’s bigger than Kerala and the characters we’re rooting for. In one shot, we see a family on a boat tearing up as they say goodbye to their home. The very next is the smile of a Tamil girl who is experiencing rain, perhaps for the first time, in her drought-stricken village across the border (the reverse too happens when this girl appears right before a shot of models performing under fake rain in Kerala).
The intermingling of multiple tight storylines do the rest to make sure the film moves with the pace of a thriller, pausing only when it has to underline a strong emotion. Some of these, like the screams of a mute child leading to his family’s rescue, delivers this emotion without it feeling too dramatic. Other sub-plots, like the one involving two quarrelling brothers, do not quite achieve its full dramatic effect.
But when so many other characters and stories succeed in creating strong connections, we notice how we’re always worried for most of them when the film shifts away from one sub-plot to another for a brief period. Even when some of these stories feel simplistic, often resulting in the kind of ending we’ve predicted, we’re still waiting for its completion to experience the love we have for those people. And with most of these characters following basic redemption arcs, like the scared army officer who wants to display his courage, they work like tiny short films that come together as a whole to hold a larger emotion.
And these emotions work constantly because there is consistency across all performances. The like-ability Tovino Thomas generates for Anoop works just as well as Asif Ali’s character, a fashion model who is embarrassed of the fisherman family he hails from. We’re invested in Bhasietttan’s (Indrans) welfare just as much as we’re waiting for Lal to show a symbolic middle finger to the rich man who insulted him earlier.
Even in terms of the making, you’re always in awe of how they were able to pull it off without us ever feeling the limitations of a set or a relatively smaller budget for this genre. The visuals are captivating too (like a drone shot mirroring a lane of houses, slowly disappearing under water) and you’re able to fully experience the intensity of such a tragedy both in the wideness of scale and in the tiniest of spaces where we feel claustrophobic. If there was one issue with the film it’s perhaps the loudness of the score drowning out events and dialogues that are already loud.
With the sensitive writing and with several touches that are just as satisfying as a mass hero moment in a mega film, 2018 works effectively as an emotional reminder of a tragedy we may have worked hard to forget. But when this reminder is infused with so much humanity and care, we do not dwell on the losses, shifting our memories instead to the kind of selfless love and care that helped us survive 2018, even if we’ve all gone back to our individual, selfish ways after. The hope and the heroes come rushing back as we witness the story of triumph, told in the most triumphant way. Isn’t this the real Kerala Story?