Variety

‘Behind the real face of ‘Tigers’ - Syed Aamir Raza

Maitri Porecha New Delhi | Updated on December 21, 2018 Published on December 20, 2018

Recently released Bollywood film is trending on Top 10 most viewed in the digital space

Internationally celebrated film, Tigers, which its distributors claim to be among the top 10 films on digital platform in India, has been unable to hit the theatres here. This makes one wonder why? Is it because the film takes on multi-national giant Nestle?

The film is based on real-life tribulations of a 48- year-old pharmaceutical salesman, Syed Aamir Raza, who had to flee from his country, Pakistan, in his fight against Nestle.

“Owing to great reviews being shared by word of mouth, the movie has garnered a phenomenal response from across the country and overseas. The trailer had 14 million views in two weeks and this has also resulted in an uptake on subscriptions. In fact, Tigers is now among the top 10 films on the platform,” Manish Aggarwal, Business Head, ZEE5 India told BusinessLine.

But, Nestle has maintained that events depicted in Tigers are misrepresented. “They appear to be based on highly questionable allegations made in a report published in 1999. These allegations and the events in the movie are not consistent with our policy and actual practices on the responsible marketing of Breast Milk Substitutes (BMS),” a Nestle India spokesperson said.

Ready in 2014, the film starring Emraan Hashmi as the lead, has been realised in India now.

A Canadian citizen now, Aamir spoke to BusinessLine on how he quit Nestle Milkpak Ltd in 1997 and had to eventually flee Pakistan for the fear of his life. A taxi driver for many years, today he sells second-hand cars and is a vociferous advocate of breast feeding.

He worked in Nestle till mid-1997 in the sales team, pushing push infant formula feed amongst doctors, nurses and pharmacies. He was shaken when he witnessed a four-month-old baby die at Memorial Christian Hospital in Sialkot, Pakistan. Aamir sent an 80-page legal notice to Nestle to cease this allegedly unethical activity.

“The mother had weaned the baby off breast milk after the first month and was feeding it formula instead, based on some doctor’s prescription. Diamond Emmanuel, a paediatrician, was later treating the baby, who had become very weak. He explained to me the side effects of bottle feeding. At that time, I was getting financial incentives from Nestle to lure doctors to unethically prescribe infant formula by the company, when breastfeeding is readily available, and this was in violation of the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) code,” Aamir said.

What has not been shown in the movie is that Aamir travelled to India for a global meet up to discuss evidence of alleged bribe that he had gathered with Indian doctors Arun Gupta and Raj Anand, who are a part of International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN).

Even after 20 years, Aamir holds on tightly to crucial proof which exposed the company - air tickets, cheques, gifts to doctors, approvals from seniors for purchasing enticements, receipts of company putting money into his bank account whenever he submitted bills of ‘Impress Money,’ which is whatever he spent on purchasing gifts like Air Conditioners for doctors, cosmetics like lipsticks for nurses, luncheon and dinner bills and so on.

In nineties, Aamir was spending close to ₹ 11,000 each month as ‘Impress Money,’ which was separately reimbursed by the company, over and above his salary, which was barely half the money he spent on luring the medicos.

“Aamir was sitting on evidence that was a smoking gun. No one ever before from inside the company had produced such strong proof of wrong doing,” said Arun Gupta, a senior Delhi-based paediatrician, who had reviewed Aamir’s evidence in late nineties.

What ensued for Aamir was intimidation by the ruling military to shots being fired at his home. In reply to his legal notice, the company responded saying that if the evidence goes public, they will sue him. “But, they never took me to court, they never legally challenged the evidence published in the form of a book I wrote in 1999 - Milking Profits,” Aamir states.

Later, Aamir left for Europe to release his book. Little did he know that he would never be able to return. It was around that time, in March 2000, that the erstwhile Pakistan government headed by General Pervez Musharraf, issued a letter stating that Aamir was damaging Nestle’s reputation.

The letter signed by Tariq Aziz, Principal Secretary to the Chief Executive (Pervez Musharraf) accessed by BusinessLine, said that the company is not in a position to take the matter to the Courts as this would adversely affect their market position by creating a controversy in the media.

It also states, “Pakistan government appreciates the work of “Nestle,” and will continue to protect their legitimate interests.

This meant that Aamir could not go back home, so he applied for refugee status in Canada. His passport was seized. His status debated by the Canadian government for close to seven years, before he was granted citizenship and visa was issued to his wife and kids, to join him. “My parents died in the interim in 2003, I could not attend their funeral,” says Aamir.

Andy Paterson, Co-Writer and Producer of Tigers argues that the film is very much globally relevant in today's time, but faced delay in making after public service broadcaster, BBC backed out from airing it. Paterson pitched Aamir’s story to director Danis Tanovic in 2006 and BBC Films commissioned a screenplay in 2007.

Paterson says, “We went to Pakistan to research it. We nearly went into production in 2007. We brought in the BBC’s Current Affairs team to provide independent research into the behaviour of the breastfeed substitute corporations in Pakistan. They sent a researcher to Pakistan to investigate and confirmed our findings. But the risk that they will sue is enough. I was shocked that BBC, wouldn’t take this on even though their film division loved the script and wanted it to go ahead,” he adds.

As Aamir’s struggle echoes globally, at the moment, Nestle is battling an ongoing court case against Government of Haryana since 2012 for its products violating Infant Milk Substitutes Act, 2003. Meanwhile, Tigers is now slated to enter the prestigious BAFTA awards in the UK. As for Aamir, it is a fight close to his heart, which he says he will never cease to fight.

Published on December 20, 2018
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