Ode to Kerala's own superheroes: Survival thriller '2018' is awash with goosebump moments

With the film having just released on OTT, crew members as well as others who watched it in theatres shared their real and reel experiences. 

Published: 08th June 2023 05:24 PM  |   Last Updated: 21st June 2023 03:34 PM   |  A+A-

Teaser poster of Jude Anthany Joseph's survival thriller film, '2018'. (Photo | YouTube)

Teaser poster of Jude Anthany Joseph's survival thriller film, '2018' (Photo | YouTube)

Online Desk

Much talk has been going on about Jude Anthany Joseph’s survival thriller ‘2018’ and for all the right reasons. With a stellar cast of Tovino Thomas, Asif Ali, Kunchacko Boban and Lal, among others, the film has minted Rs 200 crore at the worldwide box office so far, overtaking the 2016 Mohanlal-starrer 'Pulimurugan' to become the highest-grossing Malayalam film of all time. 

The 2018 floods was one of the worst catastrophes that rocked Kerala and the film is a tribute to all those who came together as one during that time of despair. Indeed, 'everyone is a hero', as the film's tagline says. It doesn’t just evoke emotions in viewers but goes on to remind us of the triumph of humanity, compassion, teamwork, and hope. With the film having just released on OTT, crew members as well as others who watched it in theatres shared their real and reel experiences. 

Anakha, an engineer from Kerala who is based in Chennai, calls ‘2018’ “an amazing must-watch film.” “The core of ‘2018’ is the fact that all the characters have an identity of their own and are given ample screen time,” she says. She also adds that the scene where Malayalis came together to participate in relief operations after receiving a call for volunteers through a WhatsApp group ‘Save Kerala’ had personally resonated with her. “There was no need to go looking for volunteers as nobody thought twice and all were ready to help. I felt both happy and proud after seeing that on screen as I saw myself through those characters.”

The year 2018 also saw many posts on social media which spoke about heroism. One of the posts still etched in my memory was about how not all superheroes wear capes; some carry oars, don a raincoat and carry a scared, confused toddler in their arms, assuring them that everything will be okay. I remember my eyes welling up after looking at that post. Another post I remember said Hollywood has Spiderman, Batman, and Ironman but Keralites have their own superheroes – the fishermen. If this doesn’t give you goosebumps, or as the Malayalis call it, ‘romancham’, then I don’t know what else will.

Many reports noted how these fishermen, who brought millions to safety and provided food and other essentials, had no formal training in saving lives or disaster management. Yet, they acted like a well-trained force, venturing into remote places where NDRF and Navy boats could not reach. Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan had called them “Kerala's own army”. The film realistically depicted the rescue act as well as the portrayal of class and caste-based prejudices towards the community.

The film was initially titled '2403 ft' and went on the floors a year after the disaster, but got shelved in its budding stages due to various reasons, one of them being the scepticism about whether Jude could pull it off. However, he did not lose hope and went on to revamp the project with a new set of actors and technicians. Although the production was paused in 2020 due to the pandemic, Jude was adamant about making this work and resumed the project again around June 2022. 

For the movie's tight screenplay, we have co-writers Jude and Akhil P Dharmajan to thank. It was not just the hard-hitting dialogues but also the light-hearted ones that gave an edge to the film. Hailing from the coastal area of Pathirappally in Alappuzha, the young Malayali novelist Akhil got on board for his screenwriting debut after hearing the story idea from Jude. He also recalls his experience during the 2018 floods where water levels had risen to the second floor of several buildings. 

“It was a very tense time as many residing in the affected areas of Alappuzha were stranded with no electricity or signal to call and reach out for help. It was thanks to the fishermen who went to each and every house, ensuring that they didn't miss out on anyone, that many of us were rescued. I noticed how they were ready to go to extreme lengths in order to save everyone possible which was what inspired me to add that component while writing the script for ‘2018’,” says Akhil. 

The fishermen rescue scene (Photo | YouTube screengrab)

Although the characters are purely fictionalised, Akhil sketched the film's fishermen based on the real fishermen's helping nature, bold attitude, fearlessness and other inspiring characteristics. He also adds that the makers of ‘2018’ refrained from taking a political stand nor did they have any intention to hurt or target anyone. Ultimately, the film made Anakha, my friends and I feel grateful that humanity survived such a calamity.

This was echoed by Joel Varghese Thomas who is currently studying at St. Joseph's University, Bengaluru. Joel said "the film brought tears to many people's eyes" as he remembered how terrifying the situation was back then with many folks (including himself) getting trapped due to the high water levels. "2018 was really touching and made me cry! In fact, it was so good that I went to watch it in theatres again," he added. 

The film is packed with multiple visual montages, actors and mini-narratives surrounding a singular large-scale disaster. Editing the film then must have indeed been a challenge. Chaman Chakko, the editor of ‘2018’, shares a snippet from his process. “In ‘2018’, there are a lot of characters placed in different scenarios. The storm sequence was initially supposed to be the opening scene. However, we decided to change it and shift a few scenes from the interval here and there. Here is when an editor works his magic as it is important to know where to place these clips so that there is a flow to the story,” says Chaman. 

When asked about his personal experience with the floods, he quips, “Does one really need to go through hell in order to understand pain and loss? Empathy is in every human and although everyone is not emotional, they can definitely comprehend and understand what a near-death experience is like. You do not need to be affected by the floods in order to feel emotions; certain scenes like the airlifting part, a family being trapped, automatically make us feel for the survivors.”

The VFX in ‘2018’ is talked about, too. Newbie Alen V Jose from the direction team, who was in charge of the rain sequences as well as the VFX, opens up about how he had the privilege of working with an amazing crew who gave their all to the making of the film. 

“Jude ettan was a role model and sort of like a warrior due to which we never gave up despite being exhausted on some days both physically and mentally. It’s easy for a filmmaker to set up a tent, sit in a chair and just yell ‘ACTION!’ but that was not what Jude ettan did. He would get into the water and guide all of us including the actors in order to get the perfect shot which was really motivating,” says Alen. He further added that out of 120 days, almost 80 or 90 had been spent in water, causing some of the crew members including Jude and himself to fall sick. "But nothing stopped any of us and we kept going on. After all, this is our story and we survived it. So who else can convey it better?"

Incidentally, two films about Kerala were released on the same day. When there is a movie that portrays humanity and salutes the unforeseen resilience of individuals when planted in the most trying of circumstances, why would anyone think of watching something that propagates hate, I wondered.


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