Corona Diaries 8: Same Mirth, Same Masala-Why We Won’t Make A Contagion Ever

What can a person forced to stay at home possibly do? With going to office suddenly turning passé and stepping out becoming hazardous to health, those trying to break the coronavirus chain through social distancing could well revive the old tradition of writing on their diaries. In our special series, Corona Diaries, New Delhi-based senior journalist Akshaya Mishra captures the subtleties of life and the times we are in.

The parallels are chilling. The reel experience is now dreadfully real. To call Contagion, the Steven Soderbergh-directed movie, prescient would be an understatement. As the corona pandemic continues its devastating sweep across continents, claiming lives by the thousands and crippling healthcare systems, we are actually living the disease drama as its characters.

We have COVID-19 now; it was MEV-1 in the movie. The source of the pandemic was a virus that originated in China. It spread through droplets expelled through sneezing and coughing. Whoever came in direct contact with the fomites was a potential victim of the disease or its carrier. The virus affected the respiratory system in humans. With no vaccine available, the only recourse was containment. All victims of MEV-1, real and potential, were advised social distancing and self-isolation to prevent community spread. Contact tracing was critical to fighting the disease.

The 2011 movie depicts the chaotic response to the situation among decision-makers worldwide and the skulduggery involved in global PR management by countries. All of it is playing out before us in real time.

Can we make a film like Contagion? The question evokes a bout of chuckles in the 85-year-old gentleman next door. A hardcore masala-action buff, he sees Contagion as a waste of time – the viewer’s as well the director’s. Films are about heroes and villains, right? He asks. The hero needs a villain and the villain needs a face. If there is no face, what is the hero going to smash in the end? Does your virus have a face? The question stumps you. You never gave it a thought earlier.

Uncle’s reaction is quintessentially Indian. We cannot do without action and entertainment. Since you have loads of time at disposal, you set out to explore whether our mass movies have changed during the decades you were busy in office. The results bring few surprises.


A look at the titles and you know what’s coming. Yodhaa No1, Khatarnak Darinda, Roadside Rowdy, Dashing Soldier 2, Daringbaaz, Indra – The Tiger…well, the menu is unappetizing sure enough. But the good thing is these films bring expectation low quickly. So low that you can end up being charitable to them even after a fight with the wife midway. Evolution took a loo break decades ago, and is still missing in action in the South Indian film industry, you realise as you watch the antics on television with monk-like detachment. However, thank DTH service for small mercies. Lockdown is painful, it would be unbearable without something to kill time. You are allowed to shed a few tears for the poor dubbing in leisure.


The lead actors who played inspectors a quarter of a century back are ACPs now. Career-wise not great progress, one must say. Either the department does not value their heroics much or it is irredeemably unfair. Their basic job profile – to beat the bad guys to pulp during the runtime of the movie and their boss at the end of it — remains unchanged though. The unshakeable faith that a policeman down the rungs can end crime — filmdom’s sanitizer to the virus of villainy, to put it in contemporary terms — endures as a constant in our movies. If you feel guilty that you have missed out on the evolution of our movies, don’t fret. You haven’t missed much.


The villains haven’t changed much either. But it’s possible they are doing worse. We don’t see them flaunting VAT 69 bottles and 555 packets much. The bevy of well-endowed women with plunging necklines and rising hemlines swarming around the baddies is missing too. Accept it or not, the bad guys of those times set life-style goals. Posh houses, swanky cars, imported booze, parties at the drop of a hat and women – they defined good life, while the hero obsessed over the ideal life. The dens of the former used to be hip and happening places. They are a tad cheerless these days. Sigh!


The more they change, the more they remain same. The truism fits our masala films to a T. There are more vehicles twisting and spinning in the air and more baddies bouncing like rubber balls off floors these days.The high-octane dialoguebaazi is in place but is somewhat subdued. Female leads of your times are mothers now, sometimes to the same heroes they romanced earlier. The basic work description of all characters and the plotline remains the same.

You hear the sounds of a car chase blaring through the windows of the action-crazy uncle and of a few others, you realise the world has not changed much. And yes, we will never make a Contagion.

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