REPLUG: The political, social criticisms against Malayalam film 2018
Tovino Thomas's epic survival drama is India’s official entry to the Oscars; here, we replug The Federal exclusive published in May 2013
The Malayalam film 2018, which is a dramatised portrayal of the devastating floods that ravaged Kerala in 2018, has struck a chord with audiences who had experienced the disaster firsthand. The film’s powerful visuals, strong performances, and above all, the emotional impact have all contributed to its success.
Even though it’s amateurishly written with predictable scenes and cliched dialogues, the narrative, over all, is a reminder of the strength and resilience of the human spirit. In a nutshell, it turns out to be a tribute to the people of Kerala who survived the 72-hour long deluge that year in 2018.
The tagline ‘everyone is a hero’ is working well with the audience, given the impressive ensemble cast of the film.
According to Box-office Worldwide, the film which was released on May 5 has surprised everyone by becoming an unexpected box-office hit. The film, which collected ₹1.89 crore on its first day, jumped to ₹3.34 crore on its second day. The film added another ₹4 crore on its third day. It had a solid first weekend amassing a total of ₹9.23 crore. The film held up superbly through the week collecting ₹4 crore plus every day. If the trend continues, ‘2018’ is on track to become one of the highest-grossing film in recent times.
Revival of theatres
Theatre owners too are happy. Suresh Shenoy, a film exhibitor who runs eight theatres in Kochi said, “There were signs of revival after ‘Ponniyin Selvan’ and now, we are seeing it with ‘2018’. I will consider it as one of the biggest hits that has come out in the last seven to eight years. The first week collection of this film will probably be on par with ‘Pulimurukan’ or ‘Lucifer’ – the trendsetting Mohanlal starrers which released in 2016.”
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Siyad Koker, the president of the Kerala Film Distributors Association, told The Federal that the film ‘2018’ is doing well at the moment, with almost all shows running to packed houses. “This is a good sign for the industry and must inspire more filmmakers. The Fahadh Faasil starrer ‘Pachuvum Athbhutha Vilakkum’ has also been showing a healthy trend,” added Koker, a veteran distributor, who is also a producer.
Further, he said, “There must be more than one film to keep this trend going, and it is too early to say that the industry has overcome the crisis, but this is a good sign.”
According to Suresh Shenoy, in the case of ‘2018’, the content and the way it has been made has worked well for the film. “Most Keralites can relate to the content since it is based on the flood that had devastated us some five years ago. I’ve been inside the auditorium for three or four shows, and I can feel the people’s reactions. If we can keep this momentum going with another set of good films, people will be back in the theatres,” said Shenoy.
‘2018’ overlooks political contribution
The idea for the film came when after a couple of months after the flood, Jude Anthany Joseph, the director was asked by a friend from a voluntary organisation, Bodhini, to make an inspirational video for the survivors. “It was for that project that I started researching on the flood,” pointed out Joseph.
“When I came to know the real picture of how the people of Kerala tackled the floods, I was amazed. Everyone, from the Chief Minister of the state to the local policemen and the fisherfolks, had contributed to fight the deluge. The very narrative of the people of Kerala’s fight against the flood was way above a mass movie,” he pointed out.
Although the director has managed to capture the ‘2018’ disaster, the criticism against the movie is that the script falls short of setting a context. The filmmaker blithely ignores the political side of the disaster. The portrayal of a catastrophic event in which no people’s representatives or grassroots political leaders were present starkly contrasts with the actual reality.
All the political parties in the state had actively participated in rescue and relief operations during the flood. The CM was also portrayed as a submissive boss, in contrast to how Kerala CM Pinarayi Vijayan was at the time. In fact, his ability to manage the crisis proved to be a key factor in his election to a second term as CM.
It is heartening to see how the movie recognises the contributions of the Keralites, who participated in the rescue efforts wholeheartedly. However, the Kerala CM had also taken a particularly striking leadership role at that time. Instead, the movie depicts a CM who watched the crisis from a helpless position, observed P S Sreekala, the director of Kerala Knowledge Economy Mission.
This criticism seems well-founded as the entire political leadership—not just the CM and the ruling party—is completely absent from the film. It should be noted that the then-Opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala along with the CM had taken a joint aerial tour to assess the flood-affected areas, which, at the time, had made national headlines.
Considering the political nature of the state, it is rather odd to picture a massive rescue and relief operation taking place in Kerala, without the participation of even a single local government representative or member of a political party at the grassroots level.
Overlooking contribution of Muslim community
The contribution of the Muslim community of Kerala is one of the movie’s most glaring omissions. There were many religious organisations at the forefront of the rescue and relief efforts, but only one is acknowledged in the movie. That too, it is about a vicar of a Latin Catholic church who is in charge of the fishermen. The only Muslim characters in the movie are a journalist and her family.
G P Ramachandran, film critic and author said that Jude Anthany appears to have created this movie as though it took place somewhere he was familiar with. While there is nothing wrong with it, it should have been more inclusive like most docu-fictions are, he said.
“For instance, Muslims are completely absent from the movie, but Christian symbols, names, and the presence of a priest appear to have received excessive attention. During the flood, we had witnessed Muslim youth offer their backs for women to use to board boats. Erasing that fact rather than handling it in a humane manner is not at all consoling,” asserted Ramachandran.
This is not the first time that Jude Anthany Joseph faces criticism from leftist circles. He faced severe backlash for mocking M M Mani, a working-class leader and former minister, over his lack of formal education.
However, despite all these criticisms, political critics of the film will agree that it is a well-made film and this is reflecting in the way it is thriving in theatres.