It’s perhaps no coincidence that the Disney+ Hotstar show Human is set in Bhopal, the site of a gas leak in 1984. In 2012, the Supreme Court responded to PILs that alleged illegal clinical trials were being conducted on underprivileged groups in Madhya Pradesh.

Pharmaceutical companies using humans as guinea pigs to test new drugs and vaccines is well documented. Creators and directors Vipul Shah and Mozez Singh have spun a web series within this sinister, corrupt and deceitful world at the intersection of pharma companies, hospitals and politicians.

The 10-episode series opens in an animal testing lab where the results of a drug’s veracity are manipulated. The head of a floundering drug company is in a hurry to push the dodgy S93R into the market. His partner at the multispecialty hospital Manthan is willing to cut corners to push the product to the human trials phase.

The primary targets for the trials are poor, undereducated people. Mangu, a boy from the local shantytown desperate to pay off his gambling debt, joins a middleman and produces subjects for the trials. When a man at the trial camp drops dead and other human guinea pigs begin to show adverse side effects, the house of cards begins crumbling.

Into this scenario enters cardiac surgeon Saira Sabherwal (Kriti Kulhari), handpicked by Manthan’s founder Gauri Nath (Shefali Shah). Gauri and her husband Pankaj Munjal (Ram Kapoor) make for a formidable and ambitious team, working the system inside-out.

Shefali Shah in Human. Courtesy Sunshine Pictures/Disney+ Hotstar.

Gauri is a stoic, soft-spoken and reputed neurosurgeon who is battling her own demons. She is also shrewd and manipulative and will stop at nothing to realise her dreams. Saira, her protege, is more complex than Gauri bargains for. Saira’s arrival begins to rattle Manthan’s foundations.

In another corner of Bhopal, a strange medical experiment for a trauma-eradicating drug is underway. This track has shades of the Julia Roberts starrer Homecoming, in which soldiers are administered drugs to erase war-time injuries.

Developed and written by Mozez Singh and Ishaani Banerjee, Human contrasts the haves and have-nots, not just through their homes and preoccupations but also in the quality of medical care accessible to them. Almost every major character is living with lies and serving selfish needs and ambitions – from deceiving the innocents to hiding their sexuality or something in the past.

The stage is eventually shared by the horrors of drug trials and the business of medicine on one hand and the personal lives of Gauri and Saira on the other. The script hastily resolves the central conflict and ends in a rather Shakespearean way.

Whenever the screenplay wobbles, the performances by Ram Kapoor, Atul Kumar (as the doctor Shinde), Vishal Jethwa (Mangu), Seema Biswas (matron Roma), Indraneil Sengupta (Neil), Sushil Pandey (Mangu’s father), Gaurav Dwivedi (Vivek Sekhawat) and Pranali Goghare (Meena) steady the ship.

Kirti Kulhari in Human. Courtesy Sunshine Pictures/Disney+ Hotstar.

Shefali Shah plays a guileful character with disquieting ease and glee. Look out for the scenes in which Gauri lets her meticulously cultivated guard down and reveals her wounds, vulnerabilities and exasperation.

Kirti Kulhari turns in a remarkable performance as a woman whose professional and personal life is measured by disparate ethical standards.

Sirsha Ray’s cinematography, the production design and locations lend authenticity, though some scenes are too staged and verge on the operatic. The background music (Saurabh Bhalerao, Suyash Kelkar, Puoora Niphadkar) works hard to underline the drama and tension in boardrooms and operating theatres, bedrooms and laboratories.

Occasionally concealed under designer wear, elegant soirees and smugness, Human gets up close with greed’s insatiable appetite as well as explores the low value of human life from a respectable distance.

Human (2022).