Fire in thebloodHave you ever thought of how you would feel if your loved one was dying of a preventable disease, that had a cure and whose medications were widely available, but you had no access to them only because you were poor? Well, that is the kind of heart rending reality that millions lived with in developing nations. They fought against AIDS without any arms simply because they did not have the money. Would you be interested to know how a drastic change was brought about? You should probably watch ‘Fire in The Blood’. 

Normally, we overlook a documentary, when we are looking for cinematic entertainment. It would be a mistake, a big mistake, to miss ‘Fire In The Blood’ because we would rather have a good time watching ‘Grand Masti’ or ‘Chennai Express’ at a theatre near us.

‘Fire In The Blood’ is not entertainment. It’s much more. It’s not a feature film. But the issue it deals with – how the criminal racket allegedly enforced by large pharmaceutical companies to block life saving drugs from third world countries, mainly Africa, touches all our lives.

We could be one of the victims, and we don’t even know it!

Indeed director Dylan Mohan Gray – God bless the vistas of visionary velocity that he breaks open in this jolting expose – takes us into a journey through a drama that beats the fictionalised flamboyance of fantasy films by a fabulous margin. There are the specifically-targeted villains and the greed motivated pharmaceutical companies, shown almost as drug cartels operating to stop the process of healing and saving lives of the poor.

The film’s premise is appalling in its ramifications. As Gray’s tale of avarice and drug-deprived deaths in Africa unfolds, we become shocked witnesses to the abysmal immorality that has gripped all large businesses in the world.

Money doesn’t only make the world go round, it flattens every moral consideration. And let’s face it, medicines and drugs are a business proposition. To see how pharmaceutical companies ruthlessly operate in non-developed, under privileged areas to deny rather than save lives is a process that this film explores and exposes with meticulously researched material and the authoritative voices of people who care about what happens to the poor.

Because the film (I refuse to give it the genre-limiting name of a ‘documentary’) goes into an area of global concern that has never before been dealt with on film, the narrative does get top heavy with information at times. Bear with it. Deal with the situation that the film so shockingly exposes: that the medicines we so blindly trust to heal us and make us healthy are often used to blackmail and mock mortality.

The singular concern of Gray’s film establishes the enormity of the wrongdoers’ death-inducing syndicate early in the narrative. The unlikely heroes show up later. They are an Indian pharmaceutical company Cipla and vocal activists which went that extra mile to counter the damage done by the greedy global players in the business.

‘Fire In The Blood’ is an important treatise on the troubled diseased times we live in when the healers become the destroyers and medicines are turned into malicious money-making agents of destruction.

Very frequently in the course of the narration I was conscious of how little we know about the world that controls our daily lives. It’s an intrinsically contaminated world that we live in, a world devoid of heroes and acts of heroism, a world governed by greed. ‘Fire In The Blood’ opens up that world to show us the festering innards of a wounded civilisation.

Some of the world’s most high profile spokespersons like Desmond Tutu, Zackie Achmat and Bill Clinton give their voices to make a cogent powerful impact on us. William Hurt’s wry cynical saddened narration certainly adds a valuable dimension to the frightening poignancy of the narration.

Watching ‘Fire In The Blood’ is not a breezy experience. It makes us sit up, think hard and reconsider the quality of our lives. In other words, it does everything cinema is supposed to, but seldom does.

Who was Yusuf Hamied?

Considered a modern day Robin Hood, Dr Yusuf K. Hamied was the chairman of the Indian drug giant Cipla Ltd. He is the man who took the first step in the fight towards providing people medication, regardless of their ability to pay. His aim was to conquer AIDS in developing nations and to give patients life saving medicines, regardless of their economic status. Regarded as a God in Africa – where he brought a world wind of change in the availability of medicines – he was able to help people live with AIDS instead of considering it a death knell. According to Hamied, he did not want to profit from a disease that was eating away at people and more importantly, the very fabric of society.

Dr Yusuf K. Hamied, chairman of the Indian drug giant Cipla Ltd. took the decision not to profit from ARVs (Anti Retroviral drugs), and brought down the cost of providing these medicines to patients from a whopping $12,000 to a meagre $ 100 per year. Even though this sum was still very large for people in developing countries, it was easy for organisations to help bridge the gap. The next step was to beat the monopoly created by companies who had patented certain generic drugs. Cipla then proceeded to make a one of its kind combination drug called Triomune that combined three drugs in one. This was a big achievement in itself since the three constituent drugs were patented by three different companies.  Another breakthrough was the production of another combination drug caller Duovir-N. Cipla also produced generic versions of many antiretroviral drugs that were now much more cheaper.

All-in-all, Cipla made life-saving drugs more accessible to the poor and needy especially in the third world countries. When Dr Hamied said that he would make a cocktail of drugs for AIDS patients, that would cost $1 per day, the industry scoffed at his pipe dreams, but today he has fulfilled his promise ART drugs are available for less than 20 cents. He has now provided over six million people in developing countries treatment at a fraction of the cost, saving countless lives.

With inputs from IANS