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2018: When the Floods Came





The news came this week that the disaster movie “2018- Everyone is a Hero”, was made India’s official entry to the Academy Awards 2024 by the Film Federation of India. I had vicariously experienced the pain of thousands of people who were impacted by the flood. The movie came on the OTT platform and I was quite moved by the story and its ending when we lost a hero to the fury of the flood.

Kerala is the slender coast that hugs the Arabian Sea, in the southernmost tip of India. What caused the flood was a mix of natural calamity and administrative bunglings. The latter came under heavy criticism by the Comptroller and Auditor General whose report points out many shortcomings on the part of the government in disaster mitigation planning, infrastructure building, forecasting flood and scientific dam management. The report made some close observations and scathing criticism about the way the situation created by the floods was handled by the state government. The flood-prone areas of Kerala -more than 14 %- have not been identified, nor is there a large-scale flood hazard map. The map defining the flood-susceptible areas of Kerala prepared by the Kerala Disaster Management Authority did not conform to the criteria laid down by the Central Water Commission for such documents. A State Emergency Operations Centre with an intelligent decision support system capable of predicting and issuing early warnings on significant hydro-meteorological hazards was to be set up as per the Disaster Management Plan of 2016. However, this was not followed through[1].

Kerala rose to magnificent heights of selflessness and service during the floods of 2018. A story widely reported in the press was fishermen mobilising themselves to support people hit by the flood. The Kollam collector took the lead in mobilising the fishermen’s societies, who volunteered with single-engine boats routinely used by them. Within a few hours, about 200-odd fishermen and several trucks, collected near the Kollam port. By the night of August 16, more than a hundred boats from Kollam were actively involved in rescue operations in Pathanamthitta. By now other urban centres too, had begun sending fishing boats to Pathanamthitta. TV channels had already started telecasting the story, and the Administrator of Pathanamthitta had alerted the Chief Minister’s office about the emergency. Close to a thousand fishing boats were mobilised and four thousand-odd fishermen from coastal areas of Kerala rescued at least 65,000 people. Most of the flood-affected people were in Pathanamthitta, Alappuzha, Thrissur and Ernakulam districts at the peak of the flood event in August. Of all the people rescued, the majority were saved by the fishermen and the rest by NDRF and the local people.

The theatre show requirements for movies competing for the Academy Awards are becoming tougher. For the 97th Oscar for 2025, contestants for the Best Film award will have to have more screening time in theatres to qualify for being considered. Over and above the prevailing one-week “qualifying run” in one of six major US cities, the contenders for the best picture will have to run for an additional seven days in 10 of the top 50 US markets. “It is our hope that this expanded theatrical footprint will increase the visibility of films worldwide and encourage audiences to experience our art form in a theatrical setting,” Academy CEO Bill Kramer and Academy President Janet Yang said in a statement [2].

“2018” tells an emotion-filled story of the floods which devastated Kerala and the way people came together to fight it. This great cinema delivers a memorable viewing experience, exceptional technical qualities, and cinematic techniques. It records the amazing resilience of Malayalis in a moment of trial during the devastating floods of 2018. The movie guides us on a tour through the harrowing experiences of those affected by the floods and showcases the bravery of ordinary people who rose to unimaginable heights of heroism to help their compatriots. The actors perform well in depicting the emotional conflicts of those who went through the floods.

The story is centred at Aruvikkulam, a Kerala village where we meet Tovino’s character, a youngster who left the Army with a fake medical certificate. We get to see their ordinary lives which get violently overturned by the flood. The director Jude Anthany Joseph brings suffering, desperation and pain when thousands of people see their houses getting submerged to the screen for the viewer to empathise with.

The portrayal of the quiet and ordinary life of the people in the first half precedes the violence that the floods brought in the second half. Everyone pitches into the rescue efforts, The fishermen with their boats, rescue efforts, the locals with what they could do, the tension that the helicopter rescue brings, everything that we heard or saw on TV in those difficult times, finds a place in the movie.

Every member of the large cast delivers an exceptional performance which seems real and relatable. The portrayal of the trauma experienced by those affected by the floods, the heartbreak, resolve, and hope that encompass the spectrum of human experience while facing and overcoming tragedy is exceptional. Tovino gets the maximum runtime and leaves you touched at the end. Established actors like Kunchacko Boban and Vineeth Sreenivasan have a quiet presence. Countless people in the relatively minor roles of mothers, fathers, victims and officials add colour to the movie.

Director, Jude Anthony Joseph, skillfully weaves together the critical events defining the saga to create a narrative of great emotional intensity. The script by Akhil George is straightforward, merging together a collage of connected events and characters. It is well-crafted, presenting a multi-faceted story involving real characters and realistic dialogue that makes a connection with the audience right from the first shot. The magnitude and impact of the deluge are captured with great precision. The pace is kept fast by Chaman Chacko’s seamless editing.

The production design and art direction are of very high quality and they recreate an authentic and enveloping world that accurately captures the damage from the deluge. There is remarkable attention to detail: everything from the damaged buildings to the streets strewn with debris is faithfully captured conveying a sense of loss.

This movie gave a sense of pride to every Keralite in seeing their fellow citizens rise to very high levels of heroism when the situation demanded it. Watching this movie made me realize and applaud the innate strength and resolve of the ordinary people of Kerala, who made a human collective against the devastating floods of 2018. This movie is a tribute to their bravery, and I would highly recommend watching it to anyone looking to witness the power of human kindness and resilience.

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