Reviewed by: Jane Fae

"There is no flab in the telling of this story, nor any excess sentiment either."

What do you do when you discover that you are not the hero? When you find out that all the good you thought you were doing was, in fact, the very opposite and that far from helping babies to thrive the products you have been happily selling to health workers for years were in fact killing the very infants you were trying to help?

In the case of Ayan (Emraan Hashmi), one of the 'Tigers' of LastaVita's sales team, you breathe deep – and blow the whistle. And then you sit back and watch your entire life turn to dust.

Copy picture

For this, according to its producers, is a true story, based on events in Pakistan in the 1990s, a drama documentary based on the actions of Nestlé whistleblower Syed Amir Raza Hussain. Much of what you will see – the subtle corruption, the bribery, the moral vacuum at the heart of corporate policy – are real. So too, shockingly, are some of the babies shown in this documentary, dying as direct result of greed and abdication of responsibility.

But there is a twist. For this is film within a film. Not just a retelling of Ayan's career, but bookended by another sort of corporate discussion. In this case, a conversation between Ayan and a group of filmmakers who desperately want to tell this story, and their concerns for themselves, for their own company should LastaVita/Nestlé decide to sue them. So in addition to the central dilemmas observed: “If there are any holes in this story they will kill us.”

Or, to put it another way: they, the megacorps can just carry on acting with impunity, secure in the knowledge that those ranged against them will continue to play fair in the face of massive cheating and criminality.

For a film that could have ended up preachy, this one does not. It gets its message across simply and directly, showing, in understated matter-of-fact fashion the very real dangers, from death threats to social isolation, reportedly faced by Ayan and his family.

There is no flab in the telling of this story, nor any excess sentiment either, and for that we must acknowledge and celebrate the work of Oscar-winning Bosnian writer and director Danis Tanovic. Though there is a twist at the end which reflects what happened in real life. And if you want to read a bit more on the background to Ayan's struggle and how the real life LastaVita succeeded in keeping his story from wider release for many years, you can read about it here.

Because the horrific truth behind this film is that despite Ayan/Hussain going public in 1997, it took a lot longer than that for his story to reach the wider public. This film, originally titled White Lies, was eventually made in 2013, and premièred at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2014. It has since earned showings at film festivals in New York, San Sebastian and Berlin.

But it has had a chequered history as far as cinema releases go. It has not, as far as we aware, managed to obtain a release in India although a showing on Zee OTT digital platform in 2018 means that at least Indian viewers who subscribe to that channel now have the opportunity to watch it.

This is a film that holds the attention from start to finish and communicates an important message to audiences the world over. A thumbs up to other cast members, including Geetanjali Thapa as Ayan's young wife Zainab, Satyadeep Misra as friend and ally, Dr Faiz, Maryam d'Abo as idealistic WHO worker Maggie, and Danny Huston, who turns in a fine performance as cautious movie exec Alex.

Nestlé has stated that the film misrepresents the facts about its activities.

Reviewed on: 29 May 2019
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Devastated when he discovers the effects of the infant formula he's peddling, a young salesman takes on a multinational corporation.

Director: Danis Tanovic

Writer: Darab Farooqui, Andy Paterson, Andy Paterson, Vibhu Puri, Danis Tanovic

Starring: Emraan Hashmi, Geetanjali, Khalid Abdalla, Adil Hussain, Satyadeep Misra, Maryam d'Abo, Heino Ferch, Vinod Nagpal, Supriya Pathak, Ulrike Hübschmann, Zachary Coffin, Urs Remond, Manreet Kaur, Wolfgang Krewe, Frank-Otto Schenk

Year: 2014

Runtime: 94 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: India, France


SSFF 2014

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