Daily Recco, March 11: Virus. The one before Corona
Today marks a year since the WHO announced Covid-19 as a pandemic. Director Aashiq Abu had no idea that the world would very soon look like scenes from his film, Virus (2019).
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When director Aashiq Abu released his film in June 2019, little could he have known that it would end up being a grim prophecy of how the world would look a year later. The critically acclaimed Malayalam film Virus is a masterclass in not just filmmaking but also at expressing to a wider audience how to think of a virus attack.
Virus is one of those rare Indian films that are about real-life events from the not-so-distant past. The film is based on the 2018 Nipah virus outbreak in the state of Kerala and how it was brought under control.
The film is effortlessly carried by its ensemble cast, each of whom plays their roles with skill. A cast list of the film reads pretty much like a partial membership list of a Malayalam actors union: Kunchacko Boban, Parvathy Thiruvothu, Tovino Thomas, Revathy, Sreenath Bhasi, Soubin Shahir, Rahman, Indrajith Sukumaran, Poornima Indrajith, Indrans, Madonna Sebastian, Asif Ali, Darshana Rajendran, Rima Kallingal and Joju George among others.
Indian movies are widely recognised in film schools across the world for their mastery of melodrama as a storytelling tool. Not Virus. This film is as straight to the point as possible and doesn't even pause to milk the screen time or the skills of its vast and talented cast. If it doesn't move the story forward, it is not in the film. And this makes it a rivetting watch.
Virus is also notable because it truly demonstrates through some of its characters the human cost of a pandemic. The husband who has lost his wife to Nipah and contracts the virus himself, to the nurse who raises an alarm that this is not some usual disease even as she cannot breathe, and the temporary sanitation worker at the hospital who volunteers to work through the outbreak in hopes of landing a government job, to the mother of a Nipah victim who is just relieved to speak to someone in person since no one wants to visit the house of a Nipah victim — are all small but memorable characters that give Virus a visceral heft when it comes to recall.
Virus, much like the earlier Hollywood film Contagion, culturally localises the concept of an outbreak or a pandemic in a way that is easily understood by audiences. It is truly a testament to the power of cinema as a medium. Now that the Covid-19 lockdown is behind us and vaccinations are underway, Virus is pretty much a must-watch on Amazon Prime Videos, purely because you would be able to relate to one aspect of the movie or the other because you have lived through some of it.