'Harrowing, Thrilling, Mind-blowing! Virus is movie-making at its finest'
Cast: Kunchacko Boban, Parvathy Thiruvothu, Asif Ali, Tovino Thomas, Rahman, Soubin Shahir
Indrajith Sukumaran, Revathi, Rima Kallingal, Madonna Sebastian, Sreenath Bhasi
Director: Aashiq Abu
Rating: 4.5/5 (4.5 out of 5)
One of the most invaluable things that "The Sentinel" has extended to me as a film appreciation-ist is the freedom to write about films and TV Series that are not strictly as per the "latest week release" time frames. This has practically spared me from subjecting myself and my readers to the torture of writing and reading about substandard material that doesn't even deserve being talked about. This week we have "The Zoya Factor", "Pal Pal Dil Ke Pass" and "Rambo: Last Blood" releasing in theaters and it doesn't require me to tell you how each of that is going to turn out. It's pointless to waste words and energy on bringing your attention to the unsavory features of these films. Instead, I would like to draw your attention to what probably is the best film of the year so far.
Virus is the latest film by the critically acclaimed director Aashiq Abu who previously grabbed attention with films like "Maheshinte Prathikaaram" and "Mayaanadhi". The story revolves around the outbreak of the NIPAH Virus in Kerala in 2018. The film unfolds like a thriller, human drama and sometimes a detective story as the team of experts comprising of doctors and government officials try to first stop the spread of the virus, contain the ones affected by it and then trace back every patient to the first known patient thereby drawing a conclusive closure on the fact that it was a virus outbreak and not a planned attack. All these elements of the story are interwoven in the narrative and unravel in the same execution space.
Virus is a tense and gripping affair that will require a minimum of 2-3 viewings to wrap one's head around all the elements of the story. The story starts smack in the middle of the action as patients start cropping up one after the other. The doctors are not sure what they are dealing with until 3 members of an illustrious family die within days and one of the member's samples are sent for "Virological" profile which in turns reveals the NIPAH strains. Once the virus is ascertained, the government first has to think of containing the diseased and cremating the dead. Treating the diseased proves to be a challenge as there is no fixed treatment protocol available and cremating the dead becomes a bigger problem when the lone Incinerator breaks down and burning the victims start coming in the way of the religious beliefs of their keens.
In the midst of all this, we have the human stories involving different characters who are linked to the different victims. A doctor, who had a near break-up with one of the patients, believes that he might have given her the virus. A distraught husband who had tried to commit suicide now finds his wife battling death as she contracted the NIPAH virus when she brought her husband to the hospital and helped save his life. A nurse with a heart of gold finds herself facing death after trying her best to help another victim and writes her last letter for her husband. A sweeper involved in a protest with the hospital authorities over non-payment of wages comes back to his duty even as his family is ostracized for it. A District Collector, a Home Minister and a team of experts go loggerhead with The Virus and Disease Control Department who believe that the outbreak is a planned terror attack.
There is so much to see and understand in the film's 2 hours and 28 minutes runtime that it felt like an hour. It is a tense and intriguing affair from the get-go and is relentless at that. The first scenes in the hospital where we see one of the doctors going through the motions of his day before coming into contact with a NIPAH Virus affected patient is probably the most realistic depiction of a hospital scene that I have seen in an Indian film. There is a sense of urgency and haphazardness that is synonymous with any government hospital. This sequence sets up the mood for what the rest of the film would be like. The film was shot in one single unbroken schedule between January and February 2019 in Government Medical College, Kozhikode and that has evidently done the film a world of good.
I just loved how the film bounced from one plot point to the other and yet never lost grip of its humane-ness. It is essentially three films in one and yet it concocts all the varied elements of its narrative into one effective and potent mix that is easy to understand and highly affecting emotionally. Every character in the tale has an important part to play and even the minor characters assume importance in the end. The fact that each of the actors acted as if there was no tomorrow only made this film that much more effective. It would be wrong to point out just a few of them as everyone did a fantastic job but I would still like to pick out my favorites of the lot.
Asif Ali as Vishnu Bhaskaran is wonderful. The fact that he has as an emotionally charged part in the narrative helps him leave a bigger mark and he milks every ounce of the opportunity that his character provides him with. Tovino Thomas as Kozhikode District Collector Paul V Abraham commands your senses whenever he is on screen. Indrajith Sukumaran as Dr. Baburaj is authoritative and seems like one who is devoid of any genuine emotion. He gets his job done with clinical ease and doesn't even bat an eyelid carrying infected corpses across the city. Parvathy Thiruvothu as Dr. Annu is the detective of the film. She is the one who ties all the cases together and what she has to go through to do that is wonderfully documented in the film. Having said all that, my favorite of the lot is still Soubin Shahir as Unnikrishnan. He is a vile and crooked degenerate and yet his character plays out in such a way that by the end, you feel bad for him. A lot of the credit for that has to go to Soubin Shahir for knocking it out of the park in terms of his rendering of the character.
Malayalam films are the most artistic and nuanced among the South Indian Film Industry (Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, and Malayalam) and Virus reiterates that fact. Aashiq Abu could have easily gone the "Contagion" way but instead, he decides to create something so original and affecting that the people watching it will be harrowed by what they see. It must be added that the film does end on a happy note but a lot is lost before that happens. I urge my readers to definitely check out this film. It is available on "Amazon Prime Videos" and is fast becoming one of the most-watched and debated films of the year.
By Ambar Chatterjee