Review Malayalam

Virus review: Taut, technically brilliant medical thriller with excellent performances

Release Date: 07 Jun 2019 / 02hr 32min


Cinestaan Rating

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Suyog Zore

The film recounts how medical staff and government officials came together to stop the spread of the dangerous Nipah virus in Kerala two summers ago.

Currently, the world is battling the novel coronavirus pandemic, with the virus having claimed more than 32,000 lives so far across the globe. In India also the virus has been having an impact on daily life with a countrywide lockdown in place. Maharashtra and Kerala have reported the highest numbers of COVID-19 (coronavirus disease) patients.

While such a medical emergency might be a new situation for most states, Kerala faced down a similar crisis just a couple of years ago, during the Nipah virus outbreak in the summer of 2018. The heroics of the medical staff and some prompt and effective action by the state authorities ensured that the outbreak was contained in time.

Within one year of the incident, Malayalam cinema gave us arguably the best medical thriller India has produced. Virus is a medical procedural thriller that gives detailed information about how the Nipah virus spread and how medical teams and a few other officials risked their lives to contain the epidemic.

The taut screenplay by Mushin Parari is the film's biggest strength. Parari had the difficult task of weaving such a compelling screenplay around a real incident, but he has excelled at it. There are more than a dozen characters who play important parts in containing the spread of the virus and the director has chosen some big names to play these roles, but never once does the focus shift from the story to the personalities. And despite having so many characters, the film does not confuse the viewer; of course, you need to pay attention.

Since the film was based on a real incident that was fresh in the minds of viewers, it doesn't waste any time spoon-feeding the audience with background information. In fact, director Ashiq Abu and editor Saiju Sreedharan trust the audience's intelligence.

Some films require you to go in without any idea of the plot, but Virus is not one of them. To enjoy the film it is imperative that you have at least basic knowledge of what happened in that one month in Kerala. Because the film presents the facts without alterations.

The director has chosen a non-linear style of narration and the screenplay goes back and forth to connect all the dots which finally culminates in the revelation of the origin of the disease. Some credit for this should also go to the masterful editing of Saiju Sreedharan. Things happen simultaneously at different locations, but Saiju makes sure the audience never gets confused about what is happening on the screen. That said, the film demands absolute attention from the viewer. Each scene, each dialogue takes the story forward and gives you crucial information; hence, it is imperative that you pay close attention to the dialogues as well. If you don't understand the language, you can't afford to look away even for a second because you are totally dependent on the subtitles.

Virus is an ensemble film that stars some of the biggest stars of Malayalam and Tamil cinema. Stars like Parvathy, Tomino Thomas and Revathy play crucial roles, but never once does their stardom override the narrative. Other actors like Sreenath Bhasi and Indrajith Sukumaran are important cogs in this wheel.

Virus is a methodical procedural drama and you will sometimes feel as if you are watching a well-researched documentary with real people, such is the performance by the cast

Rajeev Ravi's camerawork is brilliant. There are no fancy camera movements but the camerawork is quite methodical and consists mostly of mid close-ups and close-ups.

Virus shows how the state of Kerala sensed the danger posed by the epidemic and everyone, including medical staff, government officials and politicians, came together to find a way to avert the calamity. Clearly, to face down an epidemic (or a pandemic), it takes a lot more than merely asking citizens to stand in their balconies and doorways and clap for care-givers. The government has to provide the necessary equipment to medical staff, set up new labs and provide funds for new hospitals on a war footing. Above all, leadership and prompt action are essential.

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