Human is Thrilling, and perhaps Universal

Pop Culture

Human is Thrilling, and perhaps Universal

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

“What is the value of a poor man’s life? At least his death (during a medical trial) has some use”, says a character in Hotstar’s Human. With spine-chilling nonchalance, this statement sheds light on how the impoverished become collateral damage in pharmaceutical companies’ greed for profits, masquerading as medical science’s pursuit for discoveries and cures. Hotstar’s latest show Human, created and directed by Vipul Amrutlal Shah and Mozez Singh, is a searing look at how dispensable human life is at the altar of insatiable greed.

Hotstar’s latest show Human, created and directed by Vipul Amrutlal Shah and Mozez Singh, is a searing look at how dispensable human life is at the altar of insatiable greed.

A pharma company in connivance with a prestigious hospital has been conducting human trials for a drug that it wishes to make popular; the financial health of the company hinges on the drug becoming successful. Therefore, avarice leads to the circumventing of legitimate scientific protocol that in the course of a legal process, would entail much more. Steps are missed, consent is sought unethically, and fatal side-effects are overlooked in a bid to push the drug out into the market in a hurry. What really makes us human is a question that reverberates through the 10-episode Hindi drama set in Bhopal that has universal appeal. Is it our brain and intelligence that set us apart from animals? Is it our presumed understanding of right and wrong? Or is it our wilful ability to behave in a manner that is devoid of any shred of morality?

With slickly shot visuals and a riveting score, the gauntlet has been thrown in this multi-pronged war for survival. Starring Shefali Shah and Kirti Kulhari, who are supported by a brilliant ensemble cast featuring Seema Biswas, Ram Kapoor, Vishal Jethwa, Atul Kumar, Indraneil Sengupta, Aditya Srivastava and Mohan Agashe, the show constantly juxtaposes the lives of the rich and powerful with those of the poor and marginalised. The diabolical arrangement connects a pharma company to unwitting victims via doctors, middle-men, agents and thugs. It plays on the desperation of the poor, using the hunger for more to manipulate one’s hunger for food. The cinematography needs specific mention for a hauntingly visual language.

Starring Shefali Shah and Kirti Kulhari, who are supported by a brilliant ensemble cast, the show constantly juxtaposes the lives of the rich and powerful with those of the poor and marginalised.

The creator-directors have taken pains to create a polished modern narrative as surgical scenes are reminiscent of Grey’s Anatomy’s predilection for blood. This is seen in the kind of relationship dynamics and the articulation of the lines between characters, making it a contemporary series befitting our social mores and mannerisms. The chaos of basti struggles is in stark contrast to the tastefully done interiors of the main actors.  So much so after a point one realises that this dissonance also has a kind of uniformity to it, a brutal, marginalising uniformity. The poor man, meanwhile, struggles with getting a job, lives in squalor and holds a naïve belief in doctors, treating them like Gods. If a poor man wishes to not go to a doctor for the “smallest of ailments”, the rich one doesn’t bat an eyelid to pop pills. Paradoxically, scepticism is the preserve of the rich because the poor are truly at the mercy of the world that sits above them. And this is the reality of the India we live in.

What really makes us human is a question that reverberates through the 10-episode Hindi drama set in Bhopal that has universal appeal.

Yet there is a predictability to the treatment of the good and the evil on the show. An almost Bollywoodisation, if you will, of the narrative that makes it inexcusable in the more nuanced programming world of OTT. The finale rushes to tie loose ends after a slow-burn build of where the story is going.  Shefali Shah shows what a thespian she is with her restrained acting even though she overdoes the husky talking for the most part. Ram Kapoor deserved more screen time as his excellent presence is ably matched by his English diction when he switched from Hindi. After the patchiness that was R Madhavan in Decoupled, Ram shows how regular urban Indians speak English. Kirti Kulhari is a revelation as she combines vulnerability with ambition in a way that we can all relate to. Seema Biswas’ eyes are all one needs in a shot to set the tone of the scene. Vishal Jethwa, though, was the best of them all. As Mangu, he makes us fall in love with him despite his choices. Human is as slick as it is flawed as it raises some very pertinent questions through top-notch acting performances. Within our collected exteriors lies a turbulent life, making us a sum total of the choices we make. It is as much about the pharma industry and drug trials as it is about our willingness (or not) to look the other way.

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