Tigers: 2018

Until 19th century, breastfeeding was the only way to feed infants. In 1867, breast milk substitute was invented by a Swiss food manufacturer. To gain instant gratification, food company started aggressive marketing tactics to sell their products in Europe. Due to aggressive marketing, breastfeeding took a bad hit and the trend declined. The breast milk substitute formula was so bad that it resulted in instant deaths. In Germany, infant mortality rate started to increase on the accounts of adopting the shifting trend. By the end of World War II, the food companies started targeting Asian, African, and Latin American markets due to high birth rates in those regions. In 1960s, North American and European manufacturers of breast milk substitutes flooded Asian, African, and Latin American countries with their products. The new target markets of these companies didn’t have access to the potable water and up until now the situation is still same.

The movie, Tigers, portrays a similar picture of what happened in the year of 1994 in Pakistan. The movie director, Danis Tanovich, puts forward a 1978 senate hearing for the viewers to grasp the danger of irresponsibility posed by corporate giants. The plot then blends into the life of Ayan (played by Emraan Hashmi) who is ready to tell his story to a London-based TV producer over a Skype call.  Ayan starts to tell his side of the story from the very beginning. The scenes back and forth from the life of Ayan and matches with the on-going Skype call. The production team in London discusses all the legal angles to initiate the project and finally decides to remove the Swiss food manufacturer name, Nestle, from the movie. I’m not sure if this is how the movie project, Tigers (2014), actually started.

Ayan, who was recently married, was looking for a decent job but didn’t have a graduate degree needed to be a salesman of a big corporation. He was only selling Pakistan based pharmaceutical products to the local doctors and clinics in Sialkot, Pakistan. Due to his upfront communication skill, he was selected and hired by the food manufacturer giant, Lasta (fictional name). He wasn’t given any formal training on the code of conduct and his boss trained him to spend the “impress money” to promote products. The company’s charter and Article 5.5 of the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes strictly prohibits giving gifts and money to promote products. His actions could be treated as a violation of the company’s charter but Ayan kept all records of the transactions as proof (signed by his boss).

London-based TV production unit raised concerns (discussed among themselves) about Ayan’s educational credentials as he wasn’t a graduate which was the criteria for hiring. Nonetheless, Ayan continues his story and describes how he learned about the side-effects of the products by a friend-cum-doctor Faiz (played by Satyedeep Mishra). When this reality hit him, he consulted his father about the legal implications and then decided to send a legal notice to the company along with the proofs. His friend-cum-doctor Faiz later brought him to an NGO where he met Maggie (played by Maryam d’Abo). Together, they decided to promote his story through a German-based TV show. He was promised that he would return to Pakistan as a hero. But the incident, where Ayan was forced to negotiate the terms with his company inside a military headquarter for a mere $60000, made the German television producers to drop the idea. London-based TV production also started to draw lines until they realized that the negotiation happened after Ayan went public and that too inside a closed military headquarters.

The movie, Tigers, ends abruptly revealing viewers about the whereabouts of Ayan and what happened after that Skype call only through screen texts. He never returned to his home country and was forced to work as a Taxi driver in Canada for continuously seven years. During this time, he lost his parents and was just waiting to reunite with his wife and kids. The idea of being a hero was long forgotten.

The acting and direction is excellent and depicts the events in a realistic way. The supporting cast does an excellent job in keeping atmosphere real. This is the second best acting performance by Emraan Hashmi. I still appreciate his realistic acting credit in the movie Shanghai (2012).

The movie, Tigers, was released in Toronto Film Festival in 2014 and the Nestle’ whistle-blower’s real name is Syed Aamir Raza Hussain. If you wish to read his entire story in the form of a booklet, you can download it here. You can also view the actual version of proofs that he kept in this report. Nestle even arranged for a conference inviting pediatricians in New Delhi ahead of the movie release, Tigers, in India. The conference was called off as doctors refused to attend.

The malpractices in sales and marketing is a usual trend but there’s no strict law that can stop all the nonsense. Nestle’s Maggie noodle controversy that happened in 2015 is still fresh in India. Nestle’s Maggie noodle had the highest level of monosodium glutamate (MSG) and within few months the same noodle was cleared of the charges. The ban was only for few months and then the product again flooded Indian markets. I’m not sure how this could be resolved between our government and the corporate giant so fast (I’m just being naive here). There’re many such stories happened in different parts of the world. But corporate profit continues to trump over harsh realities.

Disclaimer: Excerpts have been taken from a Unicef report.