Spinning a movie from the havoc caused by the 2018 rains that lasted many weeks in Kerala and the human stories around it would have been demanding on Jude Anthany Joseph and team. The effort they took comes out in the meticulously captured frames and the sound and fury of the devastating rains and floods will keep ringing in your ears minutes after the movie has ended. 

Though the scripting makes heroic moments appear staged, knowing the real stories behind them would still move you. It would also take you back five years and let you relive some of those experiences. 2018, the film, despite its staginess, deserves a pat for making you remember the forgotten sacrifices.  

Stars keep tumbling out in the first few minutes – Tovino Thomas, an easygoing runaway army man, Kunchacko Boban who sits in a control room office, Aparna Balamurali, a television reporter on the go with a microphone, Asif Ali, a wannabe model and Vineeth Sreenivasan, an NRI whose marriage is in trouble. Tamil actor Kalaiyarasan also plays an important role in the film.

Said to be based on real stories of how innocent non-Muslim girls are recruited for the Islamic State, it follows three nursing students in Kerala who are brainwashed by an extremist group into thinking that their gods are no good and that only Islam can be the guiding light. Lured by love and lopsided logic, the girls are trapped in a heinous game where they become fodder in a purported clash of civilisations.

Shalini or Fatima Ba (Adah Sharma) is one such girl who is converted and sent to Syria with her husband to fight for the cause of the Islamic State. Caught and imprisoned in Afghanistan, she tells her story in the flashback where she and her two classmates, Geetanjali (Siddhi Idnani) and Nimah (Yogita Bihani), were enticed to join the mission by another classmate Asifa (Sonia Balani). While Shalni succumbs, the other two have to bear the brunt of resisting the sinister plot.

While the premise demands attention and emotional investment, the treatment gets increasingly guided more by local politics than cinematic sagacity. There are some poignant moments but for the most part, it is either the gullible girls eager to buy the propaganda or sly creatures with Muslim names; there is no voice of sanity, and nuance is nowhere to be found. With so much pain on paper, the treatment demanded a soft, subtle touch, but Sen seems keen on hammering the message throughout.