Director: Danis Tanovic
Cast: Emraan Hashmi, Geetanjali Thapa, Adil Hussain, Satyadeep Mishra, Supriya Pathak
Streaming On: Zee 5
The tortured journey of Tigers, a film that has languished in the cans for almost four years, inadvertently reflects the bleak emotional continuity of its subject matter. The concept of closure is virtually non-existent for both the movie, which finally finds release on the digital platform Zee5, and its tireless protagonist, who is stuck in the non-cinematic vacuum separating a classic underdog story from a sobering cautionary tale.
Based on the true account of a former Nestle Pakistan salesman who takes on the multinational after discovering that its baby milk formula is killing scores of children, Tigers, directed by Bosnian filmmaker Danis Tanovic – whose No Man’s Land incidentally beat both Lagaan and Amelie to the Best Foreign Film Oscar – employs the language of narrative fiction in an attempt to replicate the truth of a distinctly journalistic exposé. The result is a solid, unfazed drama that, at times, wishes it were a thrilling investigative documentary. This is evident from its integration of filmmaking itself into the picture, as the medium meant to contextualize Ayan’s (Emraan Hashmi) whistleblowing ambitions.
The film utilizes a clever device, given that its makers haven’t been blessed with the kind of live evidence that informs the stunning genre fluidness of whistleblower documentaries like Icarus, and Dylan Mohan Grey’s path-breaking Fire in the Blood
It opens with Ayan in exile, narrating his experience over Skype to the lawyer of a nervy film production company that is on the verge of adapting his story. Both sides have trust issues. Ayan is still desperate to bring down the Goliaths a decade later, while the makers are scrutinizing his version for loopholes to avoid the possibility of legal backlash. This is a clever device, given that the makers haven’t been blessed with the kind of live evidence that informs the stunning genre fluidness of whistleblower documentaries like Icarus, and Dylan Mohan Grey’s path-breaking Fire in the Blood. With the man as the focus of a film within the film, identities are altered and facts dramatized – Nestle becomes Lasta, IBFAN (International Baby Food Action Network) becomes a local NGO connected to WHO – with a figurative slyness that feels like a part of the treatment rather than a consequence of it. Furthermore, former Bond girl Maryan d’Abo plays the WHO representative named ‘Maggie’: another wicked nod to Nestle’s legacy.
Another example is the way Ayan’s flashback to the heady days of 1990s Pakistan is interrupted mercilessly by the lawyer at the most inopportune moments. This, in effect, yanks us out of his life so that we, too, aren’t entirely comfortable relying on the narrator’s perspective. On being asked to get to the point instead of delving into his early marriage years, Ayan even exasperatedly declares that, “to understand my story, you will need to understand my family and life.” Here, one can almost imagine the writer trying to convince us that Tigers’ texture and personality, traits that non-fiction filmmakers seldom have the luxury of exploring, is what makes the full-scale ‘recreation’ deserving of its form. It somewhat justifies Tigers’ handicap of being a movie rather than an extensively researched report.
We are constantly reminded that the horror of pharmaceuticals’ genocidal blockades is an old story that keeps repeating itself. Which essentially means that there are many beginnings but no endings – a problem that infects the tone of these cinematic ventures as well as its real-life participants
As this exchange between Ayan and the makers continues through the film, they begin to empathize with him – a bittersweet parallel connection that serves as a critique on the integrity of artistic activists who set about changing the world on the back of a “brave hero”. Though it might seem noble and necessary in intent, these relationships are merely an extension of colliding ambitions that depend solely on whether both sides can feed off one another.
Ayan’s story itself – featuring conflicted doctors, a supportive family and menacing corporate executives (Adil Hussain, always) – is constructed with the sort of quiet dignity that thrives on eschewing the tropes of underdog narratives. We are constantly reminded that the horror of pharmaceuticals’ genocidal blockades is an old story that keeps repeating itself. Which essentially means that there are many beginnings but no endings – a problem that infects the tone of these cinematic ventures as well as its real-life participants. The films detailing the struggle tend to feel incomplete, but that’s perhaps because at some level, so are the lives involved.
Emran Hashmi’s Ayan symbolizes a bribe-giving, system-servicing salesman who fails to recognize the ethical irony of disallowing his newborn’s participation in a pageant sponsored by his own company.
Hope is then a lower form of hopelessness in Tigers, a fiercely rational film that rightly hinges on a Bollywood actor who has made a career out of playing the corrective hero. Emraan Hashmi, at least on screen, fits the archetype of a shifty salesman. Whether it’s as the small-time crook, an underworld heir, a hustling cop/bookie or the big-time cricketer, he inhabits characters that are often required to sell their soul in pursuit of the good life, before being smacked with a jolt of humanity. Tigers harnesses this greyness of awakening, and observes its shadowy world through eyes that are famous for opening. Hashmi’s Ayan symbolizes a bribe-giving, system-servicing salesman who fails to recognize the ethical irony of disallowing his newborn’s participation in a pageant sponsored by his own company.
He is reserved and urgent, contrived yet modest – the type who might pride himself on ‘upgrading’ the aura of a ruthless tiger to that of a street-smart pussycat. Until he, like many of us, realizes that the shriek of a shrill cat sounds eerily similar to the piercing cries of a thousand babies. It’s hardly surprising then that those like Ayan – unlike the films that empower them – are driven by the fear of extinction.