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The right medicine

Published on 7 February 2013

When Mumbai-based filmmaker Dylan Mohan Gray set out to record the story of what he calls the "biggest crime of the century", little did he imagine that his stark tale of "medicine, monopoly and malice" would travel this far. But Fire in the Blood, his feature-length documentary on how Big Pharma multinationals and powerful western government blocked access to low-cost anti-retroviral (ARV) drugs for AIDS patients in the developing world, has done just that.

For the film was the only Indian production to be screened at the recent Sundance Film Festival, the most prestigious event for independent cinema around the globe. It was one of 12 films screened in the World Documentary category at Sundance, which also featured two other documentaries with links to India including the award-winning American film, Blood Brother.

Awards notwithstanding, Fire in the Blood got rave "must-see" reviews at Sundance. And Gray still can't get over the huge response that it drew at its six screenings, all to packed halls, in Utah. "We had waiting lines outsides cinemas. Sundance is the place where films are launched and made. So it was an honour to be here. And the response was gratifying especially since we spent five-and-a-half years to make the film," says Gray.

Actually, Fire in the Blood is a far cry from Gray's usual world of feature films. The filmmaker, who's of Irish-Punjabi descent and who moved to Mumbai five years ago to set up his own production house, Sparkwater Productions, has worked in over two dozen countries on films ranging from The Bourne Supremacy to The Namesake. He's been assistant director to leading directors like Paul Greengrass (The Bourne Supremacy), famed British director Peter Greenaway, award-winning Turkish-German director Fatih Akin as well as Deepa Mehta and Mira Nair.

It was while shooting a feature film in Sri Lanka in 2004 that Gray first stumbled upon the story of Indian drug major Cipla's Yusuf Hamied and his struggle to take generic AIDS drugs to the developing world. "It was the first time I'd heard about the issue. It seemed a huge story yet very little had been written about it," says Gray.

So he started reading up on the subject and even met Hamied. Initially, he spoke to other documentary filmmakers to make the film and but they had other commitments. "Meanwhile, I felt the story was getting lost with the passage of time. So I decided to make the film to create a historic document of a very important story that was being lost," says Gray, who trained to be a historian.

If at one level, Fire in the Blood is about the trade blockade by the West, at another level, Gray follows the story of an improbable group of people who rallied together to fight against and eventually, break the blockade. "People think that given the subject it must be a sad and depressing story, but it's actually a David and Goliath story," says Gray.

He crossed four continents to film his heroes, who include Hamied and the Ugandan physician Peter Mugyenyi, who runs the largest AIDS treatment and research centre in Africa. Then, there's the legendary South African crusader Zackie Achmat, who risked his own life by refusing to take the drugs till every poor patient in South Africa had access to them, and also the American intellectual property rights activist James P. Love. "When you see the courage and moral strength these people had, it's very moving," says Gray.

He also interviewed world leaders like Bill Clinton and Desmond Tutu. And yes, Clinton proved to be the hardest person to interview - it took Gray 18 months before he managed to catch the former US president in Hong Kong. But once he did get through to Clinton, says Gray: "He was incredibly impressive. He has an encyclopaedic knowledge. He told me a couple of things that I hadn't heard of even after researching on the subject for three years. And when I fact-checked them later, he was accurate to the decimal point."

To be sure, it was a difficult film to make. For one, the issue was complex. Then, there was the project's "international scale and scope".

Now, Gray's looking forward to releasing Fire in the Blood in 25 theatres in UK this month. "No Indian documentary has released nation-wide in UK before," he says. And he also plans to release it in around 35 screens across India in April.

But more than anything else, Gray's hoping that his film will have a larger impact. Says he: "The whole catastrophe is going to be repeated because of the [patent] controls that have been put in place to choke off supplies. So we want to start a global conversation to stop this cataclysm from being repeated." And India, he says, will play a key role here. "Activists all over the world are looking at India as western countries try every trick in the book to stop the production of generic drugs here. For if India, which is the pharmacy of the developing world, caves in, the whole thing is lost," he says.

  • A still from the film

By Aarti Dua
Photo courtesy: Sparkwater India


Winter gets haute!

You know winter’s here when mist hangs low in the air, and you’re always craving for all things warm, spicy and comforting. Winter is also the time to put your best foot forward and stock up your wardrobe with classy, elegant and oh-so-now outfits that would draw all eyes on you. And if you envy the Duchess of Cambridge’s walk-in, fret not. Here’s a quick recce of some cool winter accessories available in Calcutta’s hottest stores.

Hands on

You’d think Calcutta is never cold enough for gloves. But if you can have a beautiful pure or faux leather pair in classic colours like maroon or brown from Mango (Rs 1,990), or vintage-ish pairs in soft mauve (Rs 1,200) from Forever New or in deep grey (Rs 2,145) from Accessorize, you might as well forget deprivation and sit in a freezer if you have to! Also take a peek at dainty little soft-wool glovelets in ivory and fuschia at Forever New (Rs 1,200).

Up to your neck

From faux fur to cosy wool, there’s a whole repertoire of neck warmers to choose from. Think a classy faux fur selection in peach and black at Promod (Rs 1,450) or with animal prints at Accessorize (Rs 2,345). Wool isn’t far behind at Accessorize either. Slip on a cosy blue neck warmer (Rs 2,345) to jazz up your look. And if you like something a bit longer, a woollen kaftan with sequins from Wills Lifestyle (Rs 2,999) could just do the trick.

For more straightforward fashion on the other hand, pretty woollen scarves in mint, pink and beige from Forever New are great options. Menfolk too can pick up some seriously classy scarves in basic beige, blue or grey at Lacoste (Rs 3,650).

Head start

Skullcaps never go out of style - and they keep you from catching a chill too. Head to Lacoste for something bright (always the thing during winter) or a muted shade if that’s more to your taste. Prices start at Rs 1,450.

There’s an eclectic range of headgear for women to choose from at Accessorize and Forever New - think cloches, berets, beanies, toques and ski hats. From leopard prints, to knitted ones in several colours, they’re soft as feathers and incredibly chic.

Lend me an ear

How about some quirky ear muffs or ear-warmers to keep the cold out? Go for a deep blue ear warmer in an Angora wool blend at Forever New (Rs 1,200) or nice furry earmuffs in pretty colours (Rs 2,195) from Accessorize to add some oomph to your look.

Happy feet

Winter accessories aren’t complete without stockings or socks. And the city’s top stores have some great stuff to get you falling hook, line and sinker. How about Vero Moda’s stockings in combinations of hibiscus and black or even the classic black-and-white (Rs 595). If you’re looking for something more formal, a pair of spotted grey stockings (Rs 1,150) from Promod fits the bill to perfection. Gentlemen could go sock-fishing at Lacoste for vibrant colours (at Rs 500 a pair) peeking out of those staid trousers for a hint of much needed pizzazz.

Happy shopping!

By Tania Bhattacharya
Photographs by Rashbehari Das and Bhubaneswarananda Halder