Director: Danis Tanović
Cast: Emraan Hashmi, Geetanjali Thapa, Satyadeep Mishra
Rating: 3.5 stars
Oscar-winning director Danis Tanović’s much-awaited Tigers, which released on Zee5 on November 21, casts an unflinching eye at unethical marketing practices in Pakistan’s baby formula industry. The film is based on real-life whistleblower Syed Aamir Raza, a former sales representative for Nestlé Pakistan who battled the Swiss food-and-drink multinational for over 17 years. Now he drives a taxi in Mississauga, Canada and works the graveyard shift. The title, Tigers, alludes to a moniker bestowed upon new sales recruits, who are trained to be ferocious go-getters and thus, for effect, growl.
The growling befits the film’s leading man, Emraan Hashmi, an undeniably talented actor so well past the erotic purring of his early years. Emraan’s character is given the fictionalised name ‘Ayan’ (‘Nestlé’, too, becomes ‘Lasta’, but not without a sly subversion).
We meet Ayan as a skillful but down-on-his-luck salesman working for local pharmaceutical companies in ‘90s Pakistan. Under questionable circumstances, he is hired without a college degree by Lasta’s division head Bilal (a foxy Adil Hussain) who pushes him to peddle the company’s signature baby formula that — unbeknownst to Ayan — doesn’t gel with the country’s unsafe drinking water, killing hundreds of children.
Hashmi is terrific in the opening stretches of the film. Veteran actors Supriya Pathak and Vinod Nagpal appear as Ayan’s parents and Geetanjali Thapa as his newly wedded wife, while Satyadeep Mishra plays the conscientious Dr Faiz who makes Ayan see the dark underside of his doings. Will Ayan — unlikely David up against a milk-faced Goliath — finally raise his voice? Will there be any takers for his version of the truth, despite glaring loopholes in the man’s credibility? After all… can a forger be a flagbearer, and a salesman a saint?
Tanović approaches the factual conundrums of his subject matter with (pretend?) caution. There’s a self-reflexive tone to the whole affair, as Ayan recounts his story over webcam to filmmakers considering an adaptation. The device is cleverly deployed, claiming objectivity while simultaneously manipulating us with emotional cues. It’s mildly disconcerting to watch fiction borrow the tools of documentary as protective headgear.
The use of unsettling data and real-life footage to portray the horrors of a global reality, yet the most affecting notes of their narrative remain the personal ones, such as Ayan sitting on a sofa with a box of formula and watching his son. It’s a victory and a loss for Tigers digital release.