Virus, the Malayalam film based on the Nipah outbreak in Kerala last year, was scheduled as an Eid release many days ago. But on the Tuesday of that week, a new case of a Nipah-infected person from Kerala was reported.
Director Aashiq Abu and actor Rima Kallingal had begun the production of the film last year, months after the first outbreak of Nipah happened in Kozhikode in May, 2018. The film was going to be about the panic that the new virus which was killing one person after another – 18 of them in all – had generated, and how the state and its people came together to fight back and succeeded.
It was going to be as real as possible – the scare, the cases, the effect, and the battle for survival. So, Rima and Aashiq decided they’d go ahead with the release – it could calm people down, it would remind them of the courageous people who fought the disease for all of us, and of what we could do together.
When the movie was announced, Aashiq had revealed how three actors, already in the cast, were playing real life characters. After the movie released, it came to be known that there were a lot more characters from real life, whose stories the script told beautifully.
Before we go into the list of characters inspired from real life, there's one little point in the script that’s been of interest. Two characters, sent from the Centre, appear to apply pressure on the state administration, to connect the virus outbreak to possibilities of a terror attack. We asked Aashiq if this part was real. “It is real. Since no one had any clue (about the source of the virus), this pressure was there from our state team also. It was settled very peacefully though. We just adapted that to build a cinematic pressure,” he explains.
Characters: Reel versus Real
Revathy: The veteran actor plays Kerala Health Minister CK Prameela, based on Minister KK Shailaja Teacher. The makeover is so impeccable that Revathy even looks like Shailaja Teacher, who was a strong presence in Kozhikode through the entire time it took to declare the state Nipah-free.
Tovino Thomas: Tovino plays the Kozhikode Collector Paul V Abraham, based on Collector UV Jose.
Rima Kallingal: The producer-actor plays the real life nurse Lini, who had died looking after the first cases of Nipah last year. Lini's letter which she wrote to her husband from her deathbed, about taking care of their daughter, broke people's hearts. In the film, the character is named Akhila. Sharafudheen plays the husband, based on Lini’s husband Sajeesh.
Indrajith Sukumaran: One of the first people that Tovino’s character calls for is Indrajith’s, to take care of the last rites of the patients who died of Nipah. This had to be handled with care since the scare had by then spread and everyone was reluctant to come near the patients. His real life version, Dr RS Gopakumar, Kozhikode health officer, had handled the last rites of 12 victims. Indrajith adds the only comical touch in an otherwise serious movie, through his Thiruvananthapuram dialect and cut-and-dry one-liners.
Parvathy: Parvathy’s role as a smart PG student doing community medicine, taking up investigations on her own, was inspired by Dr Seethu Ponnu Thampi, after her husband Dr Bijin Joseph wrote a post about it on social media. Dr Seethu’s work was appreciated a lot by the health officials, for the way she linked the new cases to the original case of Sabith’s from Perambra. Parvathy studied her character so well, that she even walked like Dr Seethu, her friends said. Jinu Joseph plays the husband based on Dr Bijin.
Kunchacko Boban: He played Dr Suresh Rajan, based on Dr Govindakarnavar Arunkumar of the Manipal Centre for Virus Research. Arunkumar, who had investigated several case of encephalitis in the past, played a big role in identifying the deadly new virus as Nipah.
Poornima Indrajith: After an 18-year break, Poornima has acted in a film again, and she played the real life character of the state’s Director of Health Services RL Saritha convincingly. Her character in the film is called Dr Smrithy Bhaskar.
Joju George: Joju’s character is one that catches your interest from the very beginning, not just because you sense it is going to be an inspiring role but also because of the way he draws you into rooting for Attender Babu, the man who was protesting for his pending salary but has no qualms risking his life to fight the new virus. He played the real life character of BPM Rajeesh, a sanitation worker who handled the bodies of the victims.
Zakariya Mohammed: The director of Sudani from Nigeria played the first patient infected by Nipah in the film, based on the life of Sabith. His character was also called Zakariya. Indrans played his dad, who too succumbs to the illness, and Sarassa Balussery, his aunt, another victim. His mother played by Savithri Sreedharan, is not affected, like in real life. However in the film, the brother – played by Shebin Benson – lives, contrary to real life where Salih, Sabith’s brother, too died.
Sreenath Bhasi: He plays the young PG student Abid in the film. His character is based on two doctors -- Dr Arshad Fazal and Dr Renjith TP -- also PG students, who treated nurse Lini when she was brought in, infected by Nipah. However, the part about Abid's relationship with Sara is fictional.
Madonna Sebastian and Asif Ali: The film also shows two patients as surviving the virus -- Dr Sara Yakub, a PG medicine student, played by Madonna Sebastian and Vishnu, by Asif Ali. In real life too, there have been two survivors -- Ajanya, a nursing student, and Ubeesh, a male nurse whose wife had died of Nipah, like Darshana Rajendran, who plays Asif's wife in the movie.