Human Review: Shefali Shah-Kirti Kulhari is the series’ beating heart and throbbing veins


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A still image of Human. (courtesy: YouTube)

Pour: Shefali Shah, Kirti Kulhari, Mohan Agashe, Aditya Shrivastava, Atul Kumar, Seema Biswas, Asif Khan

Director: Mozez Singh, Vipul Amrutlal Shah

Evaluation: Four Stars (out of 5)

Set in Bhopal, once a princely state where power was wielded by a succession of Begums, Human, is a deeply compelling and exciting medico-social series centered on two women. This pair of strong, complex and elusive characters wants to rule like the Begums of Bhopal.

Easier said than done, of course, but Shefali Shah and Kirti Kulhari undoubtedly mark their presence on the show with sharp, vibrant and multi-layered performances as women who will stop at nothing to get their way. The former shines in the role of the unabashedly selfish man dressed as a do-gooder. And it’s a pleasure to watch Kulhari take on Shefali Shah step by step.

Created by Vipul Amrutlal Shah and Mozez Singh (who take turns directing the show’s ten episodes) and streamed on Disney+Hotstar, Human follows a compelling tale of illegal, unregulated human experimentation on a banned drug and the ramifications of medical fraud – the deaths of innocents and the worst murders, in addition to brazen cover-ups, incitement, threats and secret dealings. As pharmaceutical companies and medical institutions play with regulation in the quest for profit, the lives of poor, uneducated volunteers are put at risk. All of this in a city still suffering the aftermath of the 1984 Union Carbide gas leak.

Giving the location of the story coupled with the current battle of the world with a malicious virus Human added relevance and amplifying the power of its central narrative linchpin – hapless people at the mercy of those with the power to get away with utter disregard for life.

Behind the medical malpractice is a faltering pharmaceutical company desperate to push a miraculous “cure” for heart patients to shore up its bottom line, which has been adversely affected by its failure to wrest a contract for a coronavirus vaccine.

“There are some rules you never break,” says the patriarch (Mohan Agashe), who owns Vayu Pharma, as his son (Aditya Shrivastava), now in the saddle, announces his decision to allow an entire phase of the testing process skip and move from conducting animal studies to conducting phase 2 human trials.

But the old man’s warning words are nothing more than that – words – and the company and its co-conspirators are breaking the rules with impunity in collusion with politicians, medical professionals and drug regulators.

The main setting of the drama, written by Mozez Singh and Ishani Banerjee, is a super special hospital run with an iron fist by a plain speaking woman who hires a younger doctor at the beginning of the show and sets in motion a plan to downsizing their chief cardiac surgeon (Atul Kumar). While the duo’s strategy looks pretty simple at first glance, nothing about the two women is ever as obvious and as simple as it seems.

dr Gauri Nath (Shefali Shah), a top-notch neurosurgeon, and Dr. Saira Sabharwal (Kirit Kulhari), a heart surgeon with a fast-growing reputation, are in near-absolute control of their hospital despite the daily challenges they face on duty, but their life outside of the workplace tells a different story. They are women with busy lives beyond their impressive professional profiles.

They are at a loss for answers to the questions that buzz around them at home. They are both flawed and tend to resort to means of self-preservation that often overstep the bounds of acceptable behavior.

Gauri and Saira are the kind of women we rarely see on our screens, big or small. They are bound by erratic ambition and wild determination. Their methods are crude, relentless, even caustic as they struggle to hold their own in a world where going no quarters is their greatest and most trusted defense. They strive for power and perfection.

Determined not to give family members, friends or enemies any ground, the mentor and her protégé play risky mind games. “The brain is the most fascinating organ in the human body,” Gauri tells Saira, quickly claiming that “I can read minds.” But can she?

The life drama of Gauri and Saira that forms the backbone of Human, focuses on their desire to earn acceptance and fulfillment and to assert their authority, neither of which is theirs. Their progress in a man’s world depends on not shying away from the politics that are rife in the boardroom and in the operating room, and on doing their best.

Human has a variety of characters. It takes two episodes to complete the full account of the main plot details and the characters’ motivations. It picks up speed from Episode 3 and maintains a dizzying pace to the end.

Gauri, proud to carry on the legacy of several generations of doctors, and Saira, the daughter of a retired compounder, have secrets that define who they are. They hide past wounds that are at the root of their complicated relationships with their spouses and other relatives.

Gauri and Saira have unresolved issues between themselves and their husbands (played by Ram Kapoor and Indraneil Sengupta respectively) and misunderstandings multiply as the story progresses. Pyaar hamesha dard deta hai (Love always causes pain), a character laments. But little love is lost between these two women and their spouses. The pain they feel comes from the absence of love and from sadness and concern Human has several other intertwined narrative tracks that affect Gauri and Saira’s movements. Part of an impoverished migrant family of four still unsettled by the lockdown, a young man Mangu (Vishal Jethwa, who delivers the goods) and his auto-rickshaw driver father (Sushil Pandey) fall into the clutches of ruthless, unscrupulous men and women who run away from the drug experiment thug.

Mangu’s marginalized family is acutely aware of their precarious existence and knows that “hum jaise logon ke liye insaaf nahi hota, sirf sazaa hoti hai (For people like us there is no justice, only punishment). Their thirst for survival—and instinct—keeps them going in the face of ever-increasing odds.

The plight of a group of girls being held in a seedy medical lab conducting a nefarious “neurological experiment” is no different. A mysterious head nurse, Roma (Seema Biswas), controls the fate of these girls, rescued from prostitution and other forms of exploitation and driven into an infinitely darker hellhole. When things get out of hand, the girls are treated worse than lab rats. Social activist Omar Pervez (Aasif Khan) stumbles upon the shocking truth of rigged drug trials and the deaths and side effects they cause while working among victims of the industrial gas leak nearly four decades ago.

The Shefali Shah-Kirti Kulhari duet is the beating heart and pulsing veins of Human, a gripping drama with a full, flawless complement of twists and turns that retains the power to surprise to the bitter end. In a word, man is fascinating.

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