There is a dialogue in the riveting series, Human, about drug trials on the poor. “But it is not uncommon for deaths to occur during drug trials,” it goes. “People keep dying. And anyway, what is the value of the lives of the poor? Zero. If they die due to drug trials, at least their miserable lives would have been put to some use. Whether they live or they die, it makes no difference.”
This sums up the essence of Human, about the nexus between pharmaceutical companies, large private hospitals and government officials who, in a relentless pursuit of profits, use the poor as guinea pigs in illegal and unregulated trials of banned drugs. At a time when pharma companies are coming out with new drugs on a daily basis to counter the wrath of Covid-19, Human seems both timely and relevant.
Penned by Mozez Singh and Ishani Banerjee, Human has a racy plotline with a multiplicity of characters and layered narratives. It effectively juxtaposes the vaulting ambition of the rich with the acute vulnerability of the poor.
A floundering pharma firm, VayuPharma, is desperate for a “successful” drug to shore up its profits, and for that it decides to push S93R—a drug which is banned in Europe—as treatment for heart disease in India.
Despite the initial trials on mice showing a high fatality rate, it presents botched data to the authorities and flouts the rules by directly opting for Phase 2 human trials.
Conspiring with VayuPharma are government officials and owners of big hospitals like Manthan, whose Dr Gauri Nath (Shefali Shah) will stop at nothing to achieve her selfish ambitions. There are state ministers who allow the trials to be conducted on poor and uninformed patients, many of whom lose their lives, never getting the money they were promised.
Vipul Amrutlal Shah and Mozez Singh take turns to direct the ten episodes, which are strategically set in Bhopal, a city that is still reeling from the after-effects of the 1984 Union Carbide gas leak and which used to be a princely state where power was wielded by a succession of begums. Likewise, in Human, too, it is two women who lead from the front—Nath and her protege Dr Saira Sabharwal (Kirti Kulhari). While both are attracted to each other, Sabharwal opts out of a romantic relationship when she discovers that Nath had a hand in the deaths of innocent victims of forged trials.
A young Mangu (Vishal Jethwa) and his father (Sushil Pandey), part of a poor migrant family of four, fall into the clutches of the unscrupulous people running the drug trial racket. At the same time, in another frame, a mysterious head nurse, Roma (Seema Biswas), forces vulnerable teenaged girls into being guinea pigs for a lethal neurological experiment without their knowledge. The girls are treated worse than lab rats—they are kept under house arrest for days while being injected with the drugs.
Social activist Omar Pervez (Aasif Khan) stumbles upon the shocking truth, and he tries to bring it out with the help of Sabharwal. Although the series is a gripping, binge-worthy watch, almost 500 minutes of sitting through it can make one weary. There is too much going on in every episode and one needs to be fully immersed to keep track of what is unfolding at a dizzying pace. It takes two episodes to get familiar with each character. The cast delivers an exceptional performance, even though the length of the series and a substantial part of each episode is too much to take at one go.