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Last May, Kozhikode and Malappuram districts of Kerala were under the deadly grip of Nipah virus. Caught completely off guard and in the absence of a vaccine then, the South Indian state had a mammoth task at hand. Rising to the grave situation came people from all walks of life — bureaucrats, health officials, doctors, nurses, cleaners and volunteers, to rescue lives as the virus targeted 35 million people.

Director Aashiq Abu, who impressed viewers with ‘Salt N’ Pepper’, ’22 Female Kottayam’ and ‘Mayanadhi’(his last film), returns with a bigger canvas in a never-before-seen take on the fight with ‘Virus’. Scripted by co-writers Muhsin Parari, Suhas and Sharafu, ‘Virus’ raises a toast to the unsung heroes who stared death in the eye and remained duty bound.

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‘Virus’ is supported by a battalion of stars known for their brilliant performances — Revathy, Kunchako Boban, Rima Kallingal, Asif Ali, Parvathy TK, Tovino Thomas, Rahman, Indrajith, Joju George, Aishwerya Lakshmi, Dileesh Pothan, Madonna Sebastian, Remya Nambeesan, Soubin Shahir and Indrans.

Gulf News tabloid! spoke to the cast and crew about the Malayalam film:

Screen writer Muhsin Parari

“It was Aashiq Abu’s idea to make a film based on the Nipah outbreak,” said scenarist Muhsin Parari-who shared the Kerala state award for Best Screenplay (2018) for ‘Sudani from Nigeria’.

Adding to the spark was Parari’s cousin working at Kozhikode Medical College. “He used to share about cases that were reported there.”

Soon the story of ‘Virus’ got rolling with Parari scripting along with writers Suhas and Sharafu.

“While the characters are inspired from real life heroes, this is not biographical,” added the Kozhikode native.

“For me working with Aashiq is a dream come true.”

Kunchako Boban plays Dr Suresh Raj, a virologist.

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This character is inspired by Dr. Arun Kumar-a microbiologist from Manipal Institute of Virology- who identified and confirmed the Nipah virus.

“He is a down to earth and unassuming person who is strict in his time management and well planned with his work,” said Boban who met Dr Arun Kumar while filming ‘Virus’ at Manipal.

“While ‘Virus’ is drawn from true events and characters who rose to the occasion during the Nipah outbreak, my character is not an exact copy of him but is represented in a cinematic way. This is a story of winners and fighters. I wish to make a special mention of Health Minister KK Shylaja who led the team from the front, giving every kind of support-technically, emotionally and financially,” he said.

“Aashiq’s team was super cool and gave actors enough time and space to work on our roles-any number of retakes. With not even an iota of pressure they supported and encouraged us to perform naturally. The idea was to bring realism to the story without being dramatic. Most of the film was shot in live sync sound. I am lucky to be a part of this elite team comprising of noted performers and talented team of technicians. I gel well with all of them. We are friends. The team’s single purpose was to bring out a good film,” added Boban.

Rima Kallingal

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She plays a role inspired by nurse Lini, mother of two little children, who succumbed to the virus while on duty.

“Playing Lini has been the most moving experience of my life,” said Kallingal, who has produced ‘Virus’ along with husband Aashiq Abu.

“I remember reading about her final letter. It moved me to tears,” she added.

“I was quite scared portraying Lini on-screen. Since I couldn’t speak to her I had to think hard on her emotional state. It was an internal process for me to understand her feelings and what she must have felt in her last moments — her fears, her concern for everyone she treated, the despair of not seeing your loved ones before you take that final journey,” said Kallingal.

This role was life changing for me. It made me think how it would be if I was going through my last moments too. It made me reflect on my blessings, the privileges and joys that life has given me,” she added.

Tovino Thomas plays Paul Abraham Dt Collector of Calicut

“My character is loosely based on District Collector UV Jose of Kozhikode during the Nipah outbreak,” said Thomas who is working second time with Abu after the much-appreciated ‘Mayanadhi’.

“This character though inspired from a real person is pure imagination. So I did not have to interact with Mr Jose. I was instructed not to blindly imitate him as we were not making a biopic. Over discussions with scriptwriters and directors I got into the mood of the role-how to walk and talk,” said Thomas.

“Working with Aashiq ettan [brother] is not like an acting school, yet you are sub-consciously groomed as an actor. Aashiq ettan is calm and composed and never raises his voice. He keeps all the actors comfortable. You are not given any instructions, in fact you are asked about how you will be approaching the role. If needed they correct you and appreciate you when your performance is better than they visualised. Zero egos and no tension on the sets.”

“It was great fun and a beautiful experience working with this team that had senior actors coming together with my generation of actors. We complemented each other. ‘Virus’ should become a trend setter to make more films in future with leading actors coming together as a team and on serious subjects that people should be aware of,” he added.

Parvathy TK

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Parvathy’s role is kept under wraps.

“‘Virus’ was one of the most satisfying creative experiences,” said the actress. “Working with a team of dedicated technicians and actors was a dream set!”

Revathy posted on twitter

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“Proud to be part of ‘Virus’ and represent Health Minister KK Shylaja in the film. Proud to be associated that gives importance to the contribution made by each character towards the film. This truly is a team work.”

Don’t miss it!

‘Virus’ releases in the UAE on June 7.