The apocalypticism of Hollywood’s criterion disaster movies like 2012 or The Towering Inferno has revelled in the mesmerising destruction of primarily American or European megalopolises, leapfrogging over the South completely. But from the campy B-flicks of the 1950s up to the more recent action-science fiction cross breeds, the West has endured a tortuous legacy of catastrophe cinema, as old as the history of moving pictures itself. Our own homegrown maelstrom movies seem to pale in comparison but elusive box office anomalies like the seismic drama Waqt directed by Yash Chopra all the way back in 1965 up to the latest medical thrillers like Virus (2019) have overridden the system, standing out as game-changers of the genre. It is anyone's guess why we don't delve deeper into survival stories, considering that in a 2020 report released by the UN office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR), India was ranked as the third most disaster prone country in the world.
Producing high-quality CGI cyclones and tidal waves, especially on a scale that can accurately depict the magnitude of our tropical calamities, often entails big-budget investments. While the morbid fatalism that disaster films tap into may not always align with the preferences of mainstream audiences who prefer escapism, Homegrown has compiled a list of 5 trendsetting motion pictures from the regional fraternity that might change your mind about the genre, all said and done.
I. 2018 (Malayalam)
Between June and August of 2018, Kerala was a receptacle for rainfall that registered 42% above the normal threshold. For the first time in the state’s history, 35 of its 54 dams were opened, unleashing a deluge that submerged those dwelling in low-lying areas and also leading to secondary disasters like landslides. Directed by Jude Anthany Joseph, 2018: Everyone Is A Hero (2023) embroils a motley ensemble of characters like Anoop, a former military officer and Mathachan, a fisherman, in the pernicious grasp of floodwaters that remoulds their world views and tests the limits of their resilience. Overcoming the financial hurdles of high quality graphics, the floodwater sequences were shot in an actual river that was bursting to its seams at the time, a testament to the ingenuity of the filmmakers.
II. Kayal (Tamil)
With more than 227,898 people reported dead or missing in 14 countries across the Indian ocean, the cataclysmic tsunami of 2004 was considered among the deadliest disasters in modern human history.
Directed by Prabhu Solomon, Kayal (2014) takes viewers on an emotional rollercoaster as it narrates the odyssey of two young hustlers, Aaron and Socrates, who pursue their wanderlust across the length and breadth of our country until they accidentally end up helping a couple elope, without even realising it. While the tsunami is merely a Hokusai-esque backdrop to the family honour melodrama, the several days shot underwater and cumbersome post-production signify the dedication to achieve a truly colossal representation of the tragedy. It must be noted however, that in a review by M Suganth in Times of India, the use of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami as a plot device has been called out for being "exploitative" and way to extrapolate the story into a grand epic.
III. Baandhon (Assamese)
Like 9/11 in the U.S.A, 26/11 was emblazoned as a blood soaked time stamp in our nation’s psyche. When armed terrorists bombed a dozen locations across Mumbai in 2008, the spectre of Taj Hotel’s spires aflame for more than two days and three nights continues to haunt the survivors more than a decade later. Directed by Jahnu Barua, Baandhon (2012) dissects the crumbling relationship of an elderly couple from Guwahati who embark on a mission to search for their last living kin, their beloved grandson Pona, who is reported missing in the aftermath of the 26/11 terror attack. The film is a poignant exploration of the unpredictability of human existence. Produced by the Assam State Film (Finance and Development) Corporation Limited, its deft narration traces the butterfly effect of violence that ripples through a community for generations.
IV. Kathantara (Oriya)
Making landfall with a speed of 260 kph, the Super Cyclone of 1999 in Odisha ravaged essential communications infrastructure, flung people and cattle alike into the thorny embrace of trees, and swept away homes into the angry abyss of the ocean.
Directed by Himanshu Sekhar Khatua, Kathantara (2007) revolves around a young widow, Kalpana, who has resolved to end her life instead of continuing in the bleak vacuum left behind by all the people she has lost. Dipankar, a young journalist from across the border rekindles in her a romantic longing for her birthplace in Bangladesh, the fabled land her father left behind during Partition. Fascinatingly nuanced in delineating the nexus of NGOs, government compensation money, and embedded journalists, the narrative sheds copious light on unsolicited publicity that brings nothing of value to the survivors.
V. Bhopal Express (Hindi)
In the early December of 1984, a pesticide plant in Bhopal (Madhya Pradesh) owned by American firm Union Carbide Corporation released more than 30 tonnes of methyl isocyanate gas, eviscerating close to 15,000 people and going down in history as India’s first major industrial disaster.
Directed by Mahesh Mathai, Bhopal Express (1999) impinges upon the endearing travails of a newly wed couple struggling to start a family as Verma accepts a supervising position at the Union Carbide plant, overlooking the warnings of his friend Bashir who has recently quit complaining of the unsafe working conditions. Survival dramas such as this have a unique way of captivating audiences, challenging personal endurance, and exploring the indomitable spirit of individuals when faced with harrowing circumstances.
Moreover, these films also incorporate the ugly reality of living in a bruised and dying planet plagued by hyper-consumerism and profiteering multinational companies. By announcing 2018 as India’s official entry to the 2024 Oscars, the chairman of the Film Federation of India’s (FFI) selection committee, Girish Kasaravalli, has decisively acknowledged the relevance of climate change in our current cultural zeitgeist.