film
Film review: Tigers

A compelling, real-life account of the Nestlé baby milk scandal

Posted: 19.07.15

It’s easy to pick up a newspaper, glimpse a headline and turn over the page. Just like it’s easy to switch television channels and web hop until you find content that is simple to digest. Some stories are too upsetting to read or hear, that it’s easier to pretend they don’t exist. At the cinema however, when you’re faced with a challenging concept, there’s little you can do in a dark room, surrounded by viewers, other sit in your seat and watch. This is one of the strengths of Tigers. Based of real-life incidents and facts, and focusing on the central character Pakistani Sales Rep Syed Aamir Raza (sensitively played by Emraan Hashmi) it is an account of the Nestlé baby milk scandal that gained media attention in the late seventies and then again in the nineties/early millennium, but sadly today, is still a problem waiting to be solved.

It’s not a new story or one that is surprising. There are enough shocking incidents involving multinationals throughout history, to prove that their actions are not always beneficial, particularly when it involves the poorest people in the world.

Tigers, is a production that focuses on one such story - what happens when one man set out to challenge the company he works for (Nestlé). Ayan (the character name in the film) is a newly married young man who lands a job selling formula milk to a specific region in Pakistani, ensuring it’s stocked in every store, hospital and chemist and is recommended to patients by all GPs. Two years into his successful career he discovers the negative result of these actions; by drinking formula milk in favour of breastfeeding, babies are becoming malnourished and are dying.

In the film, which is fictionalised, real footage of sick babies in a Karachi hospital is used to illustrate this point and it’s here where the mood changes. From sitting back and watching a typical movie, all of a sudden the horror, shock, anger, disgust and hatred sets in: if there is one universal image that will bring tears to people’s eyes it is seeing helpless, innocent children suffer.

In drinking formula milk, babies miss out on the natural nutrients passed on through breast milk. Just as tragic is that in order for infant formula to work, it needs to be diluted in water, yet in the poorest parts of the world, the water is contaminated. Add to this the fact many women reduce the amount of required powder they use to make milk, to save it, means many millions of children are not getting the nutrition they need.

A compelling watch, the film has the power to make viewers understand the serious nature of the issues by giving them emotional context. The background to the story is Ayan’s family and in these parts the film almost turns into a thriller as the intensity of the situation heightens, and as the story turns darker, dealing with bribery and threats as the result of Ayan's whistleblowing.

The aspect that has the biggest impact however, is that the story ends unresolved. As a viewer it’s hard to accept unfinished stories…but; the ‘what happens next’ is in our hands.

It’s only through understanding more about the work of campaigning groups like Baby Milk Action and their ‘boycott Nestlé campaign’ and sharing the facts with friends and family, that the issue will be solved, and there is no better way to do this than by watching a well-made, engaging, powerful film.

Of relevance to every one, the issues raised by Tigers are ongoing, which is why it is essential this becomes more than a ‘festival film’. There are plans for a wider release, something Syed the protagonist is hopeful, will make the world sit up and take action.

Tigers (2014)
Director: Danis Tanovich
Starring: Emraan Hashmi, Adil Hussain
Language: Urdu with English subtitles

Find out more about the issues raised by the film at www.babymilkaction.org

Tigers was screened at The London Indian Film Festival 2015.

Momtaz Begum-Hossain
 

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