Human review cast: Shefali Shah, Kirti Kulhari, Vishal Jethwa, Seema Biswas, Ram Kapoor
Human review directors: Mozez Singh and Vipul Amrutlal Shah
Evil pharma. Illegal drug trials. Human guinea pigs. Tragic deaths. And two legged animals who walk the thin edge of ethics and morality. On the face of it, ‘Human’ seems to have everything a cracking medical thriller, which comes as we are weathering yet another wave of the current pandemic, requires. But having soldiered through the new web series streaming on Disney Hotstar, all I can say is that any piece of fiction which is subjected to tonal switches, from realistic threads to strands which are totally out of the left flank, is left floundering. ‘Human’ is neither fish nor fowl.
Not because the subject itself doesn’t have heft. Enticing desperately poor people into potentially lethal drug trials is an age-old global practice, which keeps popping up in pulpy crime novels and movies. The most noble profession has its share of greedy individuals who will do anything for money. There’s enough and more information on pharma company owners who are only interested in profit, innocent lives be damned. And corporate hospitals which seem to exist only to fatten bottom-lines? Just look around you.
Reputed Bhopal neurosurgeon Dr Gauri Nath (Shefali Shah) who is also the owner of a big hospital, is about to embark upon an ambitious expansion plan, with full backing from supportive spouse (Ram Kapoor). New entrant Dr Saira Sabarwal (Kriti Kulhari) is on board with these plans, unaware that she is stepping into a minefield of roiling egos and ambition. Apart from these two women, united in the fact that they are good at their job, and a heightened awareness of each other which takes them way beyond a strictly professional relationship, there is a third. A quasi mother-figure (Seema Biswas) who has had much to do with Gauri’s twisted past and complicated present, and whose sole job appears to be to take the series single-handedly into a bizarre zone from which it never really recovers.
The series, created and directed by Vipul Shah and Mozez Singh takes a few daring leaps in terms of creating backstories for their main characters. Gauri’s past involves poverty and shocking abuse. Her rise to the top of a very tough profession is shown as admirable, followed by a horrible tragedy which lies beneath her decisions to go down a very murky path. She wants more, and she will stop at nothing. Saira’s spotty marriage has to do with a secret about her sexual preferences which she is still in the process of unravelling. Both these characters have interesting layers — trauma can determine who you are, and will be — which in a better executed series would have had much more impact.
But the trouble with Human is that it is made in such an overtly filmi manner, hammering in so many improbabilities in, that even its relatively more credible aspects get coloured by the treatment. You can see that it has ambition, but what you do with it can make or break a series. Amongst the strands that do make you believe is that of a young man (Vishal Jethwa) who is lured into a web of deceit woven by people way beyond his station, resulting in a poor woman falling very sick.
The inclusion of the 1984 Bhopal gas tragedy, and its long-term impact seems forced, even if it gives Gauri a starting point, and Saira’s troubled spouse, a hot-shot photo-journalist (Indraneil Sengupta), something to do. That real-life tragedy and the devastation it left in its wake, has weight. Illegal drug trials are a real problem, which prey upon vulnerable humans. A solid drama could have come of these moving parts, but not when it comes slam bang against exaggerations and contrivances and weird flights of fancy, which make no sense at all.
Take this, for instance. A group of young women working as nurses seem a little bit off. This is an important plot point which expects us to suspend our disbelief: these nurses work in a busy government hospital and no one notices that they are not quite there. Really? When we discover just what’s going on with them, it was truly the end of my stretched-thin patience. Do the people who dreamt this up really expect us to swallow this tosh?
Some good ideas in here. Pity about how they pan out.