On that day they first visited her home in Kozhikode, Dr Seethu Ponnu Thampi thought the three writers just needed some information on the work she did last year when Nipah first came to Kerala. She was then a second year PG student of community medicine at the Kozhikode Medical College and told them the incidents she had been a part of. Dr Seethu had no idea the writers – Muhsin, Sharfu and Suhas – would write her as a character for the film Virus, that’s just released for Eid last week. And there on the screen was Parvathy Thiruvothu, walking, talking, looking tense and doing her work diligently, just as Dr Seethu did in those crucial days when the Nipah virus hit Kerala and claimed 17 lives.
“I knew later, of course, when Parvathy and others came to visit us, before the shooting began. She spoke to me to understand what my mental state was in those days,” Dr Seethu says.
There is a scene in the film when Parvathy’s character – Annu (even the name appears inspired by Dr Seethu’s middle name Ponnu) – enters a core committee meeting nervously and makes a presentation of her findings on the epidemiological links, connecting the affected persons with the first patient who got infected by the virus.
“I’d told her I was tense to enter a room full of higher officials and a minister and present my findings. Parvathy has studied me so well. My old friends called to say she even walked like me, dressed like me – the way the shawl was spread across the churidhar – and the way I put my hair up,” Dr Seethu says, after watching the movie.
It is very close to the real life incidents that took place in Kozhikode last year, with a few cinematic ‘additions and deletions’, Dr Seethu feels. “All the investigations they show are exactly what I did. The film shows Indrajith’s character call her CID. That’s how Collector UV Jose and Gopakumar sir (the real life character Indrajith plays) called me after my findings, and then everyone followed suit. I felt so happy watching that scene.”
Even the home scenes – with Parvathy and actor Jinu Joseph who plays her husband – are exactly as it happened in real, Dr Seethu says. “My husband Dr Bijin Joseph was the casualty medical officer at Iqraa Hospital where the first patients were initially admitted. So he was already exposed to two of them, Sabith and Salih from Perambra. But there was no confusion in the first few cases since they were all part of the same family – Sabith’s and Salih’s father and their aunt. But the next case was Abin’s from a place called Olavanna. I was curious of how he contracted the illness from Perambra. And I began making some calls.”
No one had assigned her to do that. But when she did make some findings, two doctors – Dr Naveen and Dr Akilesh – asked her to come to the core committee meeting and present it. Once she did, there was a lot of appreciation. Dr Seethu remembers transport minister AK Saseendran’s words. “He said I have done it with so much clarity that they could visualise the sequence of events.”
But Dr Seethu is modest. She says she is just one of the many health workers who had worked during the outbreak and there were others from Anganwadi workers to doctors who contributed so much. “But when it is a film there would be limitations. And my character fitted the medical thriller that the movie’s genre is. Even then the movie has managed to capture the original story, with a few cinematic liberties.”