July 19 2015
Based on a scandal that raged during the 1970s concerning baby milk formula, Bollywood star Emraan Hashmi and Oscar winning director Danis Tanović tackle multi-nationals’ power as a matter of life and death…
By Chayya Syal
On Friday (July 17) “Tigers” screened at the London Indian Film Festival (LIFF) and those who went along to watch were confronted with this chilling excerpt from an interview about The Baby Milk Powder Scandal, which caught the attention of the world during the 1970s.
Interviewer: “Do you believe that your company should take responsibility for selling formula which has caused the deaths of hundreds of babies in the Third World?”
Unknown representative from MNC: “No we cannot.”
This snippet set the tone for “Tigers” (directed by Oscar-winning director Danis Tanović) as the film explored the contentious issue of corporate bullying, whistle blowing, the method of artificial feeding and the continued global dominance of multi-national companies (MNCs) in an emotive and raw manner.
The story starts in Pakistan during the 1990s as we see a bright-eyed, newlywed Ayan (Emraan Hashmi, pictured above) emerge from a wedding car with his bride Zhainab (Geetanjali Thapa).
The first half of the film was a mix of humour and intrigue as it detailed the beginnings of their married life with his family. It also followed Ayan’s struggle to sell Pakistan-produced antibiotics/medication to doctors and pharmacists in his town who shun them in favour of Western brands.
After Zhainab encourages him to apply for a sales position at Lastavita Foods, which he gets despite having a failed interview, Ayan begins working there as a salesman head for his town. He passionately sells baby milk formula to doctors, hospitals and pharmacies on the orders of his reporting manager Bilal (Adil Hussain). Ayan rises through the ranks, until he discovers that the baby milk formula is responsible for causing acute dehydration, diarrhoea and eventual death in babies.
Visibly rocked and distressed by what he has seen, Ayan resigns from his job and begins a long, dangerous battle against his former employers as he fights for justice and the truth, which sees his life endangered and go into hiding for over seven years in Canada.
“Tigers” is based on the true story of a former Nestlé baby milk salesman, Syed Aamir Raza, who took on the corporate giant after realising that babies were dying as a result of his work to pressure doctors to promote the formula to their patients.
Nestlé disputes this and says: “The events depicted in the film, which is set in the 1990s, seriously misrepresent the facts about our activities.”
It adds that the employee never raised any concerns at the time and says the allegations only surfaced during a dispute about his final payment. To read more about the Nestlé reaction to the film, click here or see bottom link.
“Tigers” is a film that will anger, create discussion, outrage, unsettle and make you question the morality of corporatism. In addition, ‘Tigers’ is hard-hitting and controversial as it shows the reality of life as a whistle blower as well as analysing the actions MNCs and the behaviour of governments, communities and media groups which are often too scared to hold them accountable.
The format of “Tigers” beautifully reflects this fear as the audience were able to see the doubts, legal problems and thought process that both Ayan and the actual film directors had about releasing the film and using the MNC’s real name instead of Lastavita Foods.
“Tigers” also explores the complexity of human psychology of individuals wanting to do the right thing against the backdrop of a society which is not conducive to such principles.
“I hope you will encourage everyone to see this film and also think how you can help Baby Milk Action and the rest of IBFAN in their work,” said Syed Aamir Raza at the end.
In an exclusive Q&A with one of the producers Cat Williams, actor Adil Hussain and Patty Rundall from Baby Milk Action UK, the topics of discussion ranged from the problematic method of artificial feeding, to production issues, the inspiration behind the story and a heated discussion about MNCs quite literally milking developing countries for all that they are worth.
“Tigers” has been touted as a modern day ‘David and Goliath’ tale with themes of whistle blowing, unethical business practice and issues of corporate social responsibility (CSR).
In many respects, the comparison is understandable, but the difference between “Tigers” and David and Goliath tale is clear.
In the Old Testament Goliath was slain, while the global corporate Goliaths of today roam free and bully the Davids everywhere.
- Screens tonight at 7pm London Indian Film Festival (LIFF 2015) at Picturehouse Central, 20-24 Shaftesbury Ave, Piccadilly, London W1D 7DH. says ‘sold out’ online but check with cinema directly: 0871 902 5755
- South Africa: Durban International Film Festival, 18 and 25 July for details, see http://www.durbanfilmfest.co.za/
- About baby milk http://www.babymilkaction.org/ and http://www.babymilkaction.org/tigers/
- Nestle response to ‘Tigers’