Saturday, May 28, 2016

BHFFNYC ’16: Tigers

In Ukraine, opponents of forced Russification organized a boycott of Nestlé when it was reported the Swiss company black-balled a Ukrainian-speaking presenter from a cooking show its Nesquik brand sponsored. Syed Aamir Raza, a former Nestlé salesman in Pakistan would recommend they start with the baby formula. Oscar winning Bosnian filmmaker Danis Tanović tells his whistleblower story Tigers (trailer here), which screened during the 2016 Bosnian-Herzegovinian Film Festival in New York.

Arguably, Tigers is a bit of a ringer for the Bosnian-Herzegovinian festival, but Tanović (an Oscar winner for No Man’s Land in 2001) is arguably the most prominent director in Bosnia-Herzegovina and perhaps even the entire region of Southeast Europe. He has always been a supporter of the New York festival, which is quite cool. Any festival that has a chance to program his latest film should take advantage of the opportunity. In any event, it screened last night, so here we are.

Ayan is the thinly fictionalized analog of Raza. After scuffling as a rep for a Pakistani generic drug company, Ayan thinks he has finally made it when he talks his way into a job with Nestlé. Make that Lasta. In a twist of the meta framing device, the filmmakers developing a movie treatment of Ayan’s life quickly decide they had better use a fictional company name if they want to get the project green-lighted.

Of course, Ayan proceeds to sell the heck out of Lasta’s baby formula. However, when Dr. Faiz, one of his first Lasta conquests, returns from a course of advanced study in Karachi, he brings first-hand experience linking Lasta formula with fatal diarrhea and dehydration. To be scrupulously honest, the formula is technically safe in and of itself. However, it is a different story when the formula is mixed with impure water, which is highly likely to happen in infrastructure-challenged provincial Pakistan. Needless to say, Ayan’s supervisors are not exactly proactive when it comes to explaining the risk. Yet, much to Dr. Faiz’s surprise, Ayan decides to act on his information, seeking allies in the World Health Organization (WHO) and the European media.

Tigers has all the grit of Tanović’s previous films, but it has the flavor of South Asian/Indian Parallel cinema, holding the distinction of being Bollywood idol Emran Hashmi’s first non-Bollywood role. He is indeed quite intense and un-movie star-like as Ayan. His character is certainly a whistle-blower, but he is not a saint, which leads to some very realistic complications.

Former model Geetanjali Thapa continues to specialize in issue-oriented indie dramas (like I.D. and the even more depressing Liar’s Dice) as his ever faithful and inspiring wife Zainab. Frankly, it is rather strange to find Danny Huston not playing a villain, but he supplies periodic energy boosts as Alex, the prospective producer. It is similarly mind-blowing to see former “Bond Girl” Maryam d’Abo (the cellist in The Living Daylights) playing a sanctimonious NGO bureaucrat, but she is indeed appropriately scoldy as Maggi from WHO.

Perhaps it is not so surprising Tanović, a Bosnian Muslim, apparently collaborated so easily with the largely Indian cast and crew, notably including director Anurag Kashyap (Gangs of Wasseypur, Bombay Velvet) in a producing role. It is still a bit of an outlier for BHFFNYC, but the concern for ethical dilemmas falls squarely in Tanović’s wheelhouse. Recommended for the auteur’s admirers and patrons of Indian parallel cinema, Tigers is sure to have more festival life ahead of it, following its screening at this year’s Bosnian-Herzegovinian Film Festival in New York.