Hotstar’s ‘Human’ is a compelling Hindi-language show that dives deep into the world of pharmaceutical drug trials. Directed by Vipul Amrutlal Shah and Mozez Singh, the medical drama focuses on the ways in which the pharmaceutical industry and private healthcare providers make money at the cost of their patients’ lives.
Starring Shefali Shah, Kirti Kulhari, and Vishal Jethwa amongst others, the hard-hitting show touches upon themes of capitalism, ethics, medical experimentation, social activism, mental trauma, and class divides. Through complex characters with fascinating backstories and morally ambiguous natures, we see how the poorest of the poor are manipulated into becoming guinea pigs for dangerous drug trials. Understandably, considering the less-than-ideal state of the Indian and global healthcare system, many are wondering how much of the suspense thriller is fiction and how much of it is the truth. So, let’s find out if ‘Human’ is based on a true story.
Is Human a True Story?
No, ‘Human’ is not based on a true story. However, its premise isn’t simply the product of creative imagination. Whilst the storylines and characters are fictional, the show’s exploration of unethical drug testing, corrupt hospitals, and greedy pharma companies is quite accurate and draws from several real-life cases.
In fact, Shah revealed that it took the show’s team around two and a half years to properly research everything related to human drug testing. Indeed, Shah and Singh’s teams met with doctors, pharma company professionals, and victims of drug testing in order to understand the state of the medical industry. Additionally, they also spoke to social activists and whistleblowers fighting against corruption in the medical and healthcare field.
The sociopolitical drama largely focuses on three characters — Dr. Gauri Nath (Shah), a neurosurgeon, Dr. Saira Sabharwal (Kulhari), a junior cardiac surgeon, and Mangu (Jethwa), a young man from the slums. Gauri owns Manthan Hospital, which is banding with Vayu Pharmaceuticals to promote a drug called S93R that is banned in the West. We also see the experiences of an activist (Aasif Khan) trying to bring justice to those affected by the trials.
As the show progresses, we see how the renowned multispeciality hospital and the big pharma conduct human trials to test the S93R drug, which is pushed as a miracle medicine for heart disease despite its horrifying side effects. Gauri helms the trials and receives support from big businessmen and politicians; she is steered by her need for money as she wants to start her own neurosciences institute called Elisir. Thus, we see how the lives of the downtrodden are toyed with by those driven by ambition and greed.
Meanwhile, Saira is a newcomer who quickly learns the horrible truth behind Gauri’s venture with the Vaidyas (of the big pharma). On the other hand, Mangu, who gets a commission whenever he gets someone from the slums to sign up for the life-threatening trials, realizes the horror of the unethical experiments when a personal tragedy befalls him.
“Everyone involved in the show, including all the assistant directors and writers, and even me, I have never ever met, or heard, or come across a person like her [Dr. Gauri Nath],” confessed Shah (Gauri). “I do not know a real-life person who behaves like this, whose mind and heart are so complicated.” Despite its largely fictional premise in terms of characters and plotlines, the film touches upon several-life incidents, such as the 1984 Bhopal gas tragedy. In fact, Gauri survived the industrial disaster.
Additionally, and unfortunately, Bhopal is also well-known for the Vyapam scam, which partly involved rigged medical exams. According to several reports, unethical drug testing in India is a widespread and deeply worrying issue. Madhya Pradesh, the state in which the show is set, has also seen its share of medical malpractices; a 2011 report by the Madhya Pradesh economic offences wing (EOW) revealed how several Indore doctors were involved in unethical human drug trials.
Kulhari opined that whilst the topic of the show is sensitive, the fact that 2020 and 2021 saw the world being impacted by the pandemic makes the subject matter all the more relevant. She also spoke to her siblings, who are both doctors, in order to do justice to her role. “I did get a lot of insight by speaking to both of them [her sister and brother] and other doctors. During that phase, I would get into a conversation with whichever doctor I met which could help me with my character [of Saira],” Kulhari stated.
Thus, although ‘Human’ is mostly fiction, it explores the toxic relationship between healthcare and capitalism that puts the lives of the oppressed at stake. Additionally, the show’s complex characters highlight how diverse individuals are driven — to both crime and social activism — by unique motivations.