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Fire in the Blood: an inconvenient truth

The most shocking cinema about large-scale human suffering has typically involved guns, bombs or other obvious means of oppression. Read Sarit Ray's review of the documentary has fared.

bollywood Updated: Oct 11, 2013 15:34 IST
Sarit Ray
Sarit Ray
Hindustan Times

Fire In The Blood (Documentary, English)


Dylan Mohan Gray

Narrated by:

William Hurt

Rating: ****

The most shocking cinema about large-scale human suffering has typically involved guns, bombs or other obvious means of oppression. But what if someone claimed that a protracted tragedy, one that is still unfolding, involved not state-of-the-art weapons but modern drugs, and was masterminded not by generals but by scheming pharmaceutical giants?

If Fire in the Blood were not a film but a research paper, the revelations would still be startling.

Indian-Canadian director Gray’s documentary is a sharp wake-up call. It is thorough in its research, and brave in its allegations: That millions of lives lost to AIDS in Africa could have been saved; that apathy and racial discrimination made powerful governments and self-serving companies watch as the poor in Africa perished.

Antiretroviral drugs (ARVs), now used to keep AIDS in check, were invented in 1996, but for nearly a decade, the Western pharma lobby used patent laws to price it exorbitantly, effectively keeping it out of Africa.

Fire… documents the tragedy of the poor, the heroism of some of their leaders, and blatant admissions by politicians and pharma company honchos.

A film that is as riveting as it is engaging, Fire… emerges as the perfect vehicle for a powerful message that has been lost in the cacophony of social media networks and 24x7 news cycles. It is well-shot, sharply edited, and has a fluent, convincing narrative.

The film brings in big names — it is narrated by Oscarwinner William Hurt; it interviews Bill Clinton (criticised for his AIDS policies during his tenure as President, he later championed the cause), Zackie Achmat (a South African activist and AIDS survivor) and drug giant Pfizer’s former VP, Peter Rost.

This could have been an India- glorifying exercise, what with Yusuf Hamied (chairman of Indian company Cipla) championing the fight for cheaper generic drugs in Africa. But Gray manages to avoid that trap.

A close reference, perhaps, could be the 2005 film The Constant Gardener, adapted from a John le Carré novel, about illegal drug-testing in Kenya. Yet Fire… is wider in its focus.

And t he plaudits have already begun. Fire… won Best Political Film at Filmfest Hamburg, and has been nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance. It’s too early to predict, but an Indian film might yet make it to the world’s biggest awards stage, next year if not this, in a pill if not a lunchbox. (Fire in the Blood - in theatres today)

First Published: Oct 11, 2013 15:22 IST