The Untold Story
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Back in 2004, on one of his days off while shooting Deepa Mehta's Water in Sri Lanka, Dylan Mohan Gray chanced upon a story that would become his first film as a director. It was a newspaper article about Dr Yusuf K Hamied, the head of generic drug company CIPLA, and his lone war against a government-pharma giants nexus. "My first impression was that Hamied was trying to do something good, yet he was
being attacked for it. There was something interesting going on beneath the surface," he says.
The report led him to a story of a far greater magnitude than he had imagined. The loss of 10 million lives in global south (Africa, Asia and parts of Latin America), led by the blockage of low-cost AIDS drugs by western governments and pharma
giants, is the story of Gray's Fire in the Blood. The documentary is one of the top contenders for the Best World Documentary Competition and the only
Indian film at the Sundance Film Festival, 2013.
Fire in the Blood maps the story of trade restrictions that limit access to lifesaving medication in Africa and the global south, resulting in many deaths since 1996. Simultaneously, it shows the rise of an unlikely group of people-doctors, scientists, economists and NGOs — up against the Western government-pharma giants conglomerate. Pioneering the movement was Mumbai-based Hamied. He, along with a few NGOs, revolutionised access to cheap drugs in these areas. The film also features global figures such as former US president Bill Clinton and South African social activist Desmond Tutu.
The crew, mostly Indians, also includes Mumbai-based rock artiste and Blue Frog co-founder Ashutosh Phatak as the music director. Bollywood regular Kunal Sharma is the sound designer. What drove the Mumbai-based filmmaker to make the film was the lack of any account, written or filmed, of what he calls, the "crime of the century". "I consider myself fairly well-read, but I knew almost nothing about this story, and the historian in me found it hard to accept that something of this magnitude had gone unnoticed," says Dylan, who set up his Mumbai-based film production house, Sparkwater India, in 2005.
Born to a Punjabi father and an Irish mother, Gray moved from Canada to Mumbai as a teenager. His early practice in cinema was academic, while studying history and films at Dartmouth College in the US. He eventually ventured into filmmaking by assisting several international directors such as Paul Greengrass of the Bourne series, Mira Nair and Mehta, among others.
A mainstream Hindi film could well have been his first — he has been working on a script since 2005 with long-time friend, director Vikramaditya Motwane. "I needed to make Fire in the Blood soon because I could see the story was being lost," he says.
The medium offered its own set of challenges, which were unlike feature filmmaking. "You have to be diplomatic while making a documentary. You are asking for a favour from those who appear in the film and you can't pay them because it's considered unethical to do so," he says. "There is also the stigma associated with HIV. We had to work with many people living with the virus and it was difficult to reassure them that we had no exploitative intentions," he adds.
The selection at Sundance and its multiple screenings there have boosted the film's global exposure, opening channels for its worldwide distribution. It has managed 25 screens in the UK and Ireland, releasing on February 26. "Apart from the pride of competing with some great films, Sundance is a hugely-influential platform. Hollywood producers have expressed interest in adapting the story too," he says. The film will release in India on April 5.
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