Virus: Collective spirit of cinema through compassionate visual grammar

Mrudula Palengil

Virus- a movie based on Nipha outbreak in the state of Kerala in 2018 left me with a whole mix of emotions. If we consider how comprehensively the survival story of Nipha was covered by different media channels, it could have been quite tricky to live up to the hype. However, I did enjoy the unique narrative style of the movie and the movie for what it is (not for what it hadn’t shown).

Virus-a movie about a lot of life-like characters and their personal/professional life crossing each other’s following Nipha outbreak in Malappuram and Kozhikode. It may seem exigent to give enough screen space for all characters while having a stellar cast consisting of the who’s who of Mollywood. But the script was well drafted ensuring that we won’t see the actors in it, we could only see the characters are just coming and going along with the flow of the movie. I quite liked the way the film keeps all its characters in a moderate tone and not giving extraordinary punchlines or drama in their performances except when the script calls for it like the dramatic explanations of Index patient Zakariya’s love for nature and animals or Soubin’s (character’s) involvement in black money dealings. I was especially appreciative of the ease in establishing a relationship with each character in the limited screentime available due to the familiarity with the cast’s face. However, that itself made the movie seemed like a little detached from the portrayal of ‘public’ or the public’s version of the story being untold throughout the narration.

I felt a little peculiar when men in the movie took over the obligations to reveal the complexities of the disease, mansplaining every intriguing medical concept/terminologies and having the power in decision making when everybody else was uncertain about things. Parvathy’s character as Dr Annu was the only female figure in the movie who had something to offer to the whole ‘medical investigation’ process a team which was lead by higher medical officials (Men of course). Health Minister and District Health Officer-both women characters of the film could have given much more compelling narration in terms of their decision-making capacity rather than being mere spectators throughout the story. In one instance the film has unnecessarily bestowed Poornima’s character lack of confidence on her official video bite to the media concerning Nipha’s outbreak. Health Minister’s character appeared as someone who always solicits solutions from bureaucratic man (referring to Tovino Tomas’s collector figure). It does not appear as she is taking suggestions from them.

Despite these flaws, the movie indeed has a lot of saving graces while being intriguing in the composition of tangled emotional and logical approaches to each character’s mental state. Situations like Parvathy’s character/a few other doctors’ characters finding hard to ask questions to their patients or to the close relatives of the people who lost their lives by Nipha, the collector’s stand to not use force/power on communities and the Nurse’s character played by Rima Kallingal’s concerns about her child even when she was throbbing and panting heavily in the hospital bed and she knew that the disease could be contagious were a few gripping moments in the story.

The screenplay had moments where characters being empathetic to each other and being ethically concerned to the whole system while dealing with such epidemic conditions both from a medical and bureaucratic perspective.

Saiju Sreedharan’s editing was spectacular and diligent. Rajeev Ravi & Shaiju Khalid’s cinematography and Sushin’s Music added flavours to the hue and style of the film. I found the contrasting colour compositions and the point of view shots appealing and helpful to be attentive on long dialogue deliveries and frequent uses of medical terminologies.

Background music infuses seamlessly with the narrative tone. The film indeed possesses a dramatic impact despite having a realistic shade of dialogue delivery. I consumed the film as not a ‘realistic’ attempt on Nipha outbreak or as a true medical investigation behind it but as a cinema which experimented the possibilities of character construction and explored the perspectives of storytelling.

Virus- was not an overwhelming emotional survival story. Malayalam cinema has often stereotyped Kozhikode and Malappuram merely into a place where Muslims are thickly populated or place where families have nothing else to do but cook biriyani and follow other suitable Islamic norms. But ‘Virus’ is not one among those narrations. I enjoyed the subtle art of discerning ones’ political sensibility considering all those romanticized concepts right from religion to beliefs systems to compassion to brotherhood to everything else as under toned as possible in Virus.

Not making a film on the grounds of emotional vulnerabilities was something I find it refreshing in this film irrespective of all flaws in the narration. So I guess it still makes sense to give it a watch and initiate healthy discussions.

Mrudula, a postgraduate in Media and Cultural Studies from TISS, Mumbai is presently working as a Communication Officer at RedR India.

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