In ‘Virus’, director Aashiq Abu niftily adopts a procedural, almost clinical, approach to chronicle his state’s response to the deadly 2018 Nipah virus outbreak in Kozhikode district in Kerala.
With the help of a hugely talented cast, Abu painstakingly paints a grim picture of how a group of government officials, spearheaded by a committed Kerala Health Minister (an on-point Revathy), epidemiologists (Kunjacko Boban) and think-tanks, join forces to contain the outbreak.
It’s not always a pretty picture, but what makes this film remarkable is that this tragedy that killed at least a dozen and fanned fear among Keralites is still recent and the wounds are still open. Every scene, though dramatised, reminds us of the valiant efforts of a select few who jumped into action to nip the contagion in the bud. How did they identify the virus or was it a biological warfare launched by terrorists are dissected and explored in great detail.
Since it’s based on real-life events, Abu exercises considerable restraint when it comes to encapsulating the episodes that led to making Kerala Nipah virus-free.
The casualty, understandably, is that you may find the film slightly tedious and exhausting.
The medical thriller opens with how a patient who showed symptoms of high fever, vomiting, headache and seizures becomes the ‘index patient’ and spreads the virus among those who come in contact with him. The deadliness of the virus is communicated in the deaths that follow. The on-ground realities like medical professionals shying away from treating Nipah-infected and how Kozhikode becomes a ghost town is effectively communicated.
One of the strongest points of this film is the collective acting prowess of the cast. If Rima Kallingal, who plays the real-life nurse Lini who contracted the disease while on duty, tugs at our heart, actress Parvathy excels as someone who tries to piece together the mystery behind the Nipah virus outbreak. Indrajit as the roguish medical professional, who steps up to cart Nipah-infected corpses, is blazingly good.
Actor Tovino Thomas as the district collector plays his part efficiently. What makes this thriller watchable is the performances by a sturdy cast filled with big stars and character actors. Just like how a disease or death is the biggest leveller, these actors seem to have joined this project to tell a brave story, irrespective of the length of their role.
But there’s a loop hole. The moment the film focussed on the backstories of patients — such as the romantic complications between Asif Ali and his life partner — they lost us. When a state is looking to tackle a medical emergency, such side stories feel like a mere distraction. At 160 minutes running time, the film is slightly bloated too. However, what keeps everyone invested is knowing that the brave souls who made Kerala Nipah-free in 2018 aren’t wholly fictional. Each time Revathy, modelled after State Health Minister KK Shailaja, took a determined step to wipe out Nipah under her watch, the audiences erupted in cheers reserved for rockstars.
While its length and its tendency to meander is problematic, there’s a lot to savour in ‘Virus’. Watch it for the performances. It doesn’t kill you, but makes you stronger.
Don’t miss it!
Director: Aashiq Abu
Cast: Rima Kallingal, Parvathy, Revathy, Poornima Indrajit, Kunjacko Boban, Tovino Thomas and Indrajit Sukumaran
Stars: 3 out of 5