By Robert St. Martin
Los Angeles, CA (The Hollywood Times) 11/18/23 – India’s Oscar submission 2018: Everyone is a Hero (India, 2023) is a disaster survival story of monumental proportions based on the real floods in Kerala, India, in 2018, when the annual monsoon rains flooded many coastal villages in the Western Ghats and forced the opening of dams which were overflowing at the time. The 2018 Kerala Floods formed the most devastating series of disasters in the state’s history. For some people, these calamities might have been just random news, but for those who were most affected by it would feel this differently and strongly. What Director Jude Anthany Joseph has managed to depict are the struggles of individual people during the flood – not as someone who views from outside, but as a person who has been part of it. Although this is a disaster movie, the emotional side of the film remains really strong, as the humanity and hopelessness displayed here by the actors Is quite convincing. 2018: Everyone is a Hero just screened at the Culver Theatres at part of this year’s Asian World Film Festival and it is India’s submission for Oscar consideration for Best International Feature Film.
The story takes place in the coastal fishing village of Aruvikkulam, where things seem to go on as usual, with the usual incidents and small problems which comes naturally to such an area which is close to the highlands. Anoop (played by Indian movie star Tovino Thomas) is a former soldier who left the army after he had a frightening experience with the deaths of two fellow soldiers at the India-Pakistan border. He had arranged a fake medical certificate for the purpose and tried to go to Middle East to get a job. He has always been afraid that someone would come from Delhi to collect information about him and take him back to the one of the army camps. He is back in the fishing village of Aruvikkulam, running a roadside shop.
Being a bit paranoid, Anoop is immediately suspicious about Manju (Tanvi Ram) who is appointed to teach at the nearby school after living in the Indian capital of Delhi for a very long time. His fear is reinforced by his friends who have similar concerns about the new teacher. Manju is a very attractive young woman, and Tovino is smitten by her looks and charm – like in a Bollywood movie. But Tovino is a resourceful man and very popular in the village. He soon manages to become romantically involved with Manju and this leads to a marriage. So we quickly have a big weeding ceremony at the beginning of this larger disaster movie.
In the meantime, we are introduced to other characters in the larger story. There is Nixon (Asif Ali), a good-looking man, who has always wanted to be a popular model, and he occasionally gets work performing small roles in films and advertisements. He detests the fishing job which is followed by elder brother Winston (Narain) and father Mathachan (Lal). He feels that he does not have anything to do with sea and that catching fish is not his ideal of a way to make money Nixon has apparently fallen in love with the daughter of the rich businessman Chandy (Joy Mathew). The future father-in-love makes fun of his modelling job and family background related to fishing. This leads to further conflict between him and his family. Only Chandy’s son Alex (Hari Krishnan), who is also Anoop’s friend shows some interest in the marriage alliance.
What Nixon especially hates and fears is the sea whenever there is stormy weather, and he gets a frightening experience of the raging sea in one of the well-done opening segments of the film. While out helping his brother and father on a fishing trip, a storm comes up and Nixon loses control of his small open boat and is barely rescued by his experienced seaman Mathcahan and his brother Winston. This season serves as a foreboding of the coming monsoon rains and the kill of the Kerala fishermen who figure large in this story about everyday heroes saving lives in the 2018 Kerala floods.
To broaden the context, we next see the reporter Noora (Aparna Balamurali) on local Kerala television covering news about rivers, floods and droughts on both sides of Western Ghats. She feels that the rain which has caused floods in some areas of Kerala will mean much more in the coming days. She had only previously reported about increasing droughts on the other side of Mullaperiyar. There is news about multiple low-pressure areas formed in the Arabian Sea which could turn into cyclones. The dams in the state are almost completely filled and needs to be opened. There seems to be something terrible awaiting most of the areas of Kerala, and it is worse than what they had imagined.
At a governmental level, Home Secretary Shaji Punnoose (Kunchacko Boban) also feels that they need to be prepared for an impending disaster with the rains. He had only recently built a new house, and has fear for the safety of his own lands too. Rameshan (Vineeth Sreenivasan) who is working in Abu Dhabi is arranging a job for Anoop there. He has just returned home to the village because his mother is in the hospital, but his airplane is diverted from Cochin to Coimbatore because of the bad weather. He has problems with his wife Anupama (Gauthami Nair), which have reached a peak and headed to a divorce.
Rounding out the cast of characters is Koshy (Aju Varghese), who is struggling to make a trip happen with the two Polish tourists whom he wished to take to Cherai, Fort Cochin, Aleppey and Munnar, but the plans get foiled due to one problem or the other caused by the continuous rain. The clueless Polish tourists provide a comic relief to this otherwise serious situation.
Written by Jude Anthany Joseph and Akhil P Dharmajan, “2018: Everyone is a Hero” captures the catastrophe that the historic floods in Kerala were in 2018. The filmmaking grammar of the movie is quite simple, with multiple storylines all blending into one another at several points and the water working as the dissolvent for them all. The film is not about the evils of this world. From the opening of the film, we are focused on the fact that the people of these regions are pretty self-prepared and don’t look up to the government for much in the way of help. Their world is about their community and its well-being. The settlement is a hilly region which is skillfully captured through a chapel where a Roman Catholic Church stands tall on the top of a hill (this part of Kerala has a sizeable Catholic population.).
The reason that screenwriters Jude and Akhil spent so much time in the first hour establish the ordinary lives and the landscape of this Kerala village is to help us understand how the deluge of rain and flooding waters graphically impacts the lives of the inhabitants. When we see how trees that previously stood tall right outside the doors of houses are swept away or how a tiled roof that needs repair will collapse crushing people, we understand the true impact of the flooding waters.
The film is in the Malayalam language of Kerala – quite a different from the Marathi of Bollywood in Mumbai. It is interesting that film made and focused on the southern coastal state of Kerala should be India’s Oscar bid for Best International Feature Film for the Academy of Motion Pictures Awards in 2024. The most prominent thing about this example of Malayalam cinema is its s attempt to be relatable in more ways than one.
The hero here is relatable; he isn’t one with abs and a perfect skin. The lead female isn’t the glamourous journalist/teacher who walks around with blow-dried hair in a setup like in a Bollywood movie. 2018 is about people, and the cast looks like ordinary “people.” Although Tovino Thomas is a major star in India and his name helps sell the movie in India, he does portray a very human Anoop in this film. He is a good-for- nothing man who suddenly becomes a larger-than-life hero.
The music in 2018 is dramatic and intense, but the score does lend itself to the drama of the situations of rescue of many stranded people by the brave Kerala fishermen, who use their fishing boats in the floods to save people from certain death. The constant sound of the rain seems ever-present and the amazing cinematography of DOP Akhil George captures the flood with top-angle shots and close-up of the individuals in their predicaments. Director Jude explained in a Q&A after the screening that most of the shooting was done at night and required great skill by the camera crew. What is amazing is that the total cost for this complex disaster/survival movie was only $4 million – a figure that should easily cost over a $100 million in Hollywood.