Jude Anthany Joseph—A vow fulfilled
With Malayalam survival thriller 2018 being selected as India's official submission for the Oscars, here's a look at the journey of the film's director
In 2018, when Kerala witnessed its worst flood in nearly a century, Jude Anthany Joseph—a three-film-old director then—was one among scores of victims. His house was partly submerged, and his car got swept away. Five years later, his ambitious film on the devastating floods, 2018: Everyone is a Hero, is making waves, but for good reason. It's a film that speaks of not just the catastrophe but also the undying resilience of people who banded together in horrible times. Besides emerging as the highest-grossing Malayalam film of all time, the film has managed to become India's official submission at the 96th Academy Awards for Best International Feature Film. This is only the fourth Malayalam film in history to achieve this remarkable feat. For Jude, who was upset about the film not getting a simultaneous pan-India release, this must seem like poetic justice.
Jude broke into the cinema scene in 2014 with Ohm Shanthi Oshaana, a charming coming-of-age rom-com told from a girl's perspective. A blockbuster at the box office, it also earned critical acclaim and accolades, including the Kerala State Film Award for Best Film with Popular Appeal and Aesthetic Value. His following two films were also about women and their complexities. Oru Muthassi Gadha (2016) was about a grouchy grandmother, who sets out to fulfill her bucket list. In his third film, Sara's (2021), Jude took a brave leap by exploring a woman's right to abortion. It's a topic generally perceived to be in uncomfortable territory, and yet, he managed to present it as a breezy entertainer.
Jude has been controversy's child, and for both good and bad reasons. This director, who dared to tell uncomfortable 'her stories' on screen, was arrested in 2017 for 'abusing and threatening a woman Mayor'. The same year, his cryptic and derogatory Facebook post was thought to have been aimed at actor Parvathy, who was being subjected to widespread abuse after pointing out the misogyny in the Mammootty-starrer Kasaba. Or how about when, days after the release of 2018, which was shattering records, Jude got himself embroiled in another controversy by accusing actor Antony Varghese of cheating a producer. While Jude retracted his statements and apologised later, the damage was done. He might have been at the peak of his prowess and it might have been considered a PR nightmare to make such statements, but Jude has never been one to have a filter. While this has benefits, this creates problems too. Industry insiders believe him to be impulsive to a fault, but largely well-intentioned.
Another common sentiment, a positive trait, concerns Jude's persistence for perfection. This was particularly on display while doing 2018, the most challenging film in his career. During the project's initial announcement (titled 2403 ft. then), the only name in the team that people were skeptical about was the director himself, as he had so far been dabbling with only light-hearted entertainers until then. Determined to prove naysayers wrong, Jude began work on the film but encountered numerous hurdles en route, the biggest of all being... the pandemic. Interestingly, producer Anto Joseph even suggested dropping the project and offered to produce five other films with the dates Jude had procured from his lead actors. But Jude, despite being warned of consequences, was relentless even if it meant his life and career were at stake. He reworked the script multiple times before settling on the 12th draft and had discussions with around 20 cinematographers before finally finding someone who trusted his vision. Even after the completion of the shoot, Jude ruffled quite a few feathers in his pursuit of perfection. The repeated postponement in release annoyed many, but Jude was determined to deliver the best possible output. And when the film was finally released to unanimous praise, people had no choice but to admit that this was all due to Jude's conviction.
Unsurprisingly, there are very many anecdotes about Jude's confidence. It is said that during the interval of the first show of his debut film, Ohm Shanthi Oshanaa, Jude asked his producer to get a 100th-day poster ready. Similarly, just a day before the release of 2018, Jude shared a video on social media in which he is felling mangoes by throwing a wooden log at them. In Malayalam, they say, "Potta kannante maavileru" (a blind person pelting stones and landing mangoes), as a reference to someone succeeding out of pure luck. With the video, Jude was making the point that his forthcoming success would have nothing to do with luck. More than anything else, the success of 2018, is acknowledgment of a man who always believed in himself, even when very few did.
Jude Anthany Joseph, originally named Sijo Joseph, had his name changed due to his faith in Jude, the Apostle. Before entering cinema, Sijo vowed to take the saint's name if his prayers were heard. When he felt they were answered, he fulfilled the vow by changing his name, with the faith that his prayers would continue to be answered. It seems the blessings continue to come his way.