'Human' review: Even Shefali Shah can't save this excruciatingly slow medical drama

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Shefali Shah in ‘Human’, on Disney+Hotstar. (Image: screen grab)

K-drama fans are used to watching 16 episodes a season avidly because the narrative moves forward at a demented pace, even if the show is about an old lady who’s waiting to die and just wants to brings her estranged family back together. Some Korean shows, like Kingdom, are so good that you barely notice that season one is over and you are halfway into season two…You set reminders for the standalone bonus season Ashin of the North and watch it as soon as it drops. Then we get Human on Disney+Hotstar. Ten episodes of a medical drama where you want to label it Dead On Arrival but you don’t because Shefali Shah has a lead role in the show.

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Alas, even she cannot stop the itchy trigger finger from pressing the fast forward button. Or be distracted by Robin Cook-inspired medical dramas all over OTT platforms.

In a post COVID world, an almost bankrupt drug company begins human trials of a previously banned drug (for what, we are never told, but it’s being called ‘Saviour’). Just that these human trials are not legal and lots of bribes have been given to skip phases. Poor folk are roped in to be human guinea pigs and with horrid results…

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Dr Gauri Nath (Shefali Shah) and Pratap Munjal (Ram Kapoor) are the power couple who own Manthan, the biggest hospital in Bhopal. They’re lobbying for a new building that will house a neurosciences hospital in partnership with an Italian medical services company that is doing breakthrough work in the field. Shefali Shah is not only a neurosurgeon, she is the brains behind everything that’s going on at the hospital. And as they say, all is not well. Drug trials performed on poor people are not going well and people are dying in the ‘medical camps’.

‘Terminally ill people, poor people’s lives have no meaning really,’ Gauri Nath believes. ‘If they die because of the experimental drug, then does it really matter?’ Looks like Gauri is all brains and no heart. (I did a little jig here to celebrate how wonderfully Shefali Shah essays the role of villain!) She sacks Dr Snehal Shindey (played by Atul Kumar Mittal), the cardiac specialist, when he gets in the way of the drug trials. You see how clever this gets? Brains over heart? But then, it has taken six 45-minute episodes to make this point. There’s lots of plotting and lobbying with creepy ministers which looks more ‘posed’ than ‘plotting’. We understand that Gauri Nath will not allow anything to get in her way, not even Snehal Shindey who helped her start the hospital.

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But the seeds for this conflict, which happens in the sixth episode, are sown in the very first episode. Gauri has employed a new cardiac surgeon Dr Saira Sabharwal without informing or consulting Shindey. Kirti Kulhari is very good as a brilliant cardiac surgeon who has returned to her roots in Bhopal after many years. She, too, has a dark past and does not get along with her parents.

Mangu is a poor lad living with his parents and sister in a shanty in the shadow of the closed Union Carbide plant. Vishal Jethwa (whom you saw in Mardaani 2) plays the part very well. You know he wants to get out of that hellhole by hook or by crook. He gets embroiled in finding people for the illegal drug trial (and that includes his parents too)…

Of course, people die and they try to cover it up and Mangu tries to find out how and why his mother died. His path intersects with Saira Sabharwal who is now the heart of the hospital… Will the heart also go over to the dark side? Will the activists fighting for Mangu’s rights ever get justice?

This show would have been brilliant had they not taken so long to make a case. They have bizarre, unexplained goings-on with everyone. Seema Biswas leads a band of orphaned and abused rescue nurses who are on a drug trial separately. It makes them giggle and smile for no reason at all. Gauri Nath herself seems bonkers in her love with her dead son and no explanation is given as to why and what she’s injecting herself with ever so often. Why Kirti Kulhari is a lesbian who hasn’t come out of the closet is odd too. Her gender preferences have nothing to do with the plot except it’s become fashionable to show women kissing in the show. Ram Kapoor, too, walks in and out of the story as Gauri’s spouse who does his own thing…

There is so much needless complication (the makers might think this is very clever), the audience won’t last beyond the first episode. There is way too much content available for the viewers for them to wait to see where Gauri Nath’s plot to make money off a new drug is going. As a die hard fan of Shefali Shah, I knew this was a jackpot: Shefali Shah as an evil queen who doesn’t care if poor people die. Shefali Shah sashaying around in kaftans seducing politicians for the sake of her hospital. Shefali Shah as a mother grieving for her dead son. Shefali Shah battling demons of the past by injecting herself with some drug. Shefali Shah ensuring how anyone who opposes her dies. Shefali Shah seducing Kirti Kulhari… Wait, what? Why?

The luxury of six episodes that are in reality an annoyingly slow and mostly pointless elaborate set up for the explosion of violence in the end is useless for an OTT audience who wants everything yesterday. What is the point in having an elaborate and complicated plot if you lost the audience before the first episode? Even the Saas-bahu TV episodic shows that last for years know that every half hour show (22 minutes, really) needs to have three cliffhangers to retain the audience. Although this human is enamored of Shefali Shah’s saucer eyes, it was a punishment to go through the rest of the nonsense that is this show (including an attempt to milk the gas tragedy that struck Bhopal nearly 40 years ago). I could’ve used the fast forward button, but then this review would have been insincere… Watch it if you’re a Shefali Shah fan, but make sure you don’t throw the remote at your screen for the ‘We’re so cool and grisly’ ending. I just muttered many vituperatives under my breath and took refuge in a hot cuppa joe.

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