Unilever reality show claims the life of my friend Saad Khan

A little over a week ago, I got one of the most shocking news of my life. An ex-colleague and a good friend Saad Khan passed away during the shoot of a reality show being shot in Thailand. The show was organized by Unilever as part of their ad campaign for Clear Shampoo for Men. Saad died of drowning during an under water challenge which involved pulling weights across the water.

Hearing the news of a friend passing away is in itself devastating, not to mention he was merely 32, a father of 4 very young children, aged between 7 & 2. He was probably the most cheerful person you’d ever meet, and was the 1st in everything among friends, now including leaving us all with memories.

Apart from my personal account, Saad’s death is becoming a closely guarded secret by the multinationals involved in the campaign of the show. Ironically, that has become the very reason of it being widespread internationally on blogs and social networking websites.

Unilever and Mindshare, the 2 advertising giants involved in the promotion of the show are making all efforts to cover the incident across the media, to the extent that all blog posts are being slowly blocked. I still can’t understand why this is being done, but with this post, I want to set some facts straights and publicize some questions that I’m sure would arise in your minds as well upon hearing the details of Saad’s death:

Here’s what is known about the show / event which took his life:

According to the details given by Unilever, the fateful challenge involved 4 participants to carry a 7kg weight on their backs across a pond. Saad reportedly drowned as he lost his balance. It is also reported that he suffered a cramp and could not stay afloat, and yelled for help before going down for the last time. It is to be noted that he was an excellent swimmer and had an athletic build of height 6’2″.

GEO news went on air with Saad’s news for the first time on 28th August at around 5 PST.
The Head of Corporate affairs Unilever Pakistan (Farishtey Gati Aslam) spoke to Geo claiming this to be an accident. She said that the participants were given the option of wearing life jackets but Saad opted out of it. All safety measure were taken.
She never spoke about the 7 kg bag which was fixed with each participant during this stunt, or the fact that none of the participants wore life jackets and the jackets were NOT mandatory.
She also said on air that Unilever is also trying to compensate the family and is in touch with the family, friends etc.

Please note that Farishtey Gati Aslam is the wife of Imran Aslam who is the CEO/President of GEO network. The questions which Geo asked were most likely the questions which were told to them by Unilever to ask!

As a representative of the grieved family & friends, I would like the following questions to be answered:

1. Corporate Social Responsibility of Unilever & Mindshare in the making of this reality show? Was there ever a document regarding the planning of the event?
2. Were the safety precautions adequate at the time of shooting any stunt?
3. Were the participants given any safety trainings / briefing for the stunt?
4. What are the credentials of Unilever & Mindshare to host and manage a reality show? Any corporation while undertaking any project develops a project plan / manual. We would like to see the project manual for the show.
5. Were the contestants insured?
6. On what criteria were the candidates selected? Did the organizers inform the participants of potential danger involved?
7. If the stunt involved danger of drowning, why was the life jacket optional especially when there was a 7kg bag affixed with every participant?
8. How may lifeguards were present? In other reality shows like Fear Factor, there is usually 1 guard for each participant who is responsible to look after that individual. Why did it take around 15 minutes to search and take out the body when there were cameras watching the precise spot where Saad went down?
9. The pond in question is located in Chatuchak park in Bangkok. The pond is reported to be muddy with precise depth unknown. Why was the pond selected without measuring the depth and being tested by professional safety officials before the stunt?
10. Was this place randomly selected or through a series of approvals?
11. Why is Unilever / Mindshare avoiding the media on the subject if they took the necessary precautions? Has any staff from Unilever (the main organizer) actually scene the place before / after the incident?

There are many more such questions in the minds of people who have heard or read about the incident. We demand an official explanation from the officials at Unilever and Mindshare in an open forum.

I was probably the last among the friends to see Saad Khan alive a couple of days before he took off for Thailand. He was very excited and though never told me about the show, said there was a big surprise for everyone out of this trip!

I request you to spread this post as much as you can so that more and more people are aware of the incident. Please also take part in the Official Facebook Community.

May Allah bless Saad Khan’s soul & give his family (wife & 4 small kids) the strength to overcome this irreplaceable loss. Ameen.
Saad Khan

33 Comments so far

  1. Pak Satire (unregistered) on August 30th, 2009 @ 1:02 am

    Well, whatever I say and do am sure can not help you or saad’s family for bearing the grief over such a loss coping with the situation. How could they when we who are not related are feeling so sad over this news. Anyways, we are trying to do what we felt we are best at.

    We will wait for a while and see how unilever responds to it. If they did go the legal way and did not bear their social responsibility we will start a boycott their products campagin against them by making comics on each of their products and making… spoof ads of each of their products to help build the awareness and aid the boycott.

    Here is a small glimpse of what we are thinking to start till we get them accept it and compensate it.


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  4. fasee on August 30th, 2009 @ 6:32 pm

    It felt bad when I read that, wud have critisied the guy who drowned,for so many a things, in addition to the obvious punching bag, the multinationals…

    But bottom line is, they play irresposible, knowing that this phaticher qoum does not have what it takes to act like a qoum with chracter….blogers stand is a refreshing chnage, after the lays stand by ummat team, this one shud go to new heights.

    Govt shud be the first one to act, yet induvidual acts combined can take its toll on them aswell….but in war of nerves, this qoum usualy falters…having no spine, and a very shortterm memory.

    Anyways, I wish my condolences, and from deepest down my heart, I wish people stop acting to the amusment of the elites by participating in games which devlue them and risk there lives……like living on the edge, fear factor etc etc..

    Eating cockroachers, catching spiders don’t make u cool or blod..they just prove you are a pethetic phatichar with no sense of selfesteem.

  5. Yes (unregistered) on August 30th, 2009 @ 7:46 pm

    What a beautiful smile !!!
    RIP brother

  6. Sakib (unregistered) on August 30th, 2009 @ 9:15 pm
  7. zash (unregistered) on August 31st, 2009 @ 9:17 am

    why wud media will take a hipe on this issue………UNILEVER Pays their bills after all

  8. Shamsi (shamsi) on August 31st, 2009 @ 11:48 am

    try and get hold of the contract under which it was executed, see if the clauses include any overseas trip insurance, coverage and legal jurisdiction of ANY court of law in case of accident, or exparty termination of contract.

    The MAN is dead (may he rest in peace)- i wonder why he is termed as Shaheed so far as his death is accidental and in water.

    Let us not debate HOW, focus on HOW his family shall be taken care-off and covered till the kids complete education, reach adulthood to stand for their mother and themselves.

    Media Mogul Tahir A Khan major shareholder in Mind Share, Owner of TV One, Imran Aslam CEO President of Geo Husband of Unilever Director Geti Ara shall be Human enough to step forward and do something human despite the clauses and coverage under the contract signed by SAAD, for his adventurous nature.

  9. Shamsi (shamsi) on August 31st, 2009 @ 11:49 am

    submitted after correcting typo

    The MAN is dead (may he rest in peace)- i wonder why he is NOT termed as Shaheed so far as his death is accidental and in water.

  10. Asim Qureshi (unregistered) on August 31st, 2009 @ 6:25 pm

    Keep raising the voice, dont let traditional media and channels stop the truth from coming out.get the family and friends to speak up when time is appropriate. If you need help, let me know, here.

  11. Ronnie (unregistered) on August 31st, 2009 @ 9:54 pm

    My extreme condolences to you and his family. My thoughts go out to you and his family during this perod of extreme loss to you. I will pass on this message. He has a very beautiful smile indeed. May he rest in peace. Stay strong.

  12. pakab (unregistered) on September 1st, 2009 @ 7:36 am

    Actually what i thing and observe. That our media is filled with those who dont know the mening of life. The media at the moment consist of those giants sons and daughter who claims that they are ” Media kay BAP”.
    Ask one more question that how much was the project cost and how much producer took in hand to execute that project. How many took how much preior to execution. Let say if the project cost was 40 Millions. It means producer said that budget. A finalizing authority may be from Lever Brotehrs ask there cuts to finalize the budgets then the person from Minddshare. Secondly was there any screening of producer took place preior to the finalization of the show wheather he or she has done that job before. What are there experience. Thats why I always say no when somebody ask me “cut”. I expect you all that from today decided to say no to those who as “cut”. Saad Khan killers are actually those who ask and took “CUT” in the whole deal. So my friends lets decide to Save our Media from these “Cut Takers”.

  13. بستنی (wasiq) on September 1st, 2009 @ 12:46 pm

    I hate Reality Shows……! and it seems the sponsors despises me….
    very sorry to know about this tragic incident….

  14. fasee on September 1st, 2009 @ 4:30 pm

    @ wasiq

    Me too, only reality shows I like must have the compulsary bikini dumbass babe in it, with lotsa skinshow…otherwise who wud watch a re*lity show…

    @ pakrb

    Sir jee cut sari dunya me chalta hai…its nothing new or unique….wat is diffrent is….hum cut letay huway duty bhool jatay hain….due dilligence……baki dunya cut zaroor leti hai per zimadari nai bhoolti…plz don’t mix up those things.

  15. The Reality of Reality Television « CHUP! – Changing Up Pakistan (pingback) on September 1st, 2009 @ 5:08 pm

    […] it,” Farrukh Khan, a close friend of Saad Khan, provided a different account. On Sunday, he blogged, “She [Aslam] never spoke about the 7 kg bag which was fixed with each participant during […]

  16. balma on September 1st, 2009 @ 6:32 pm

    Balma thinks that people taking part in such stupid contests bear some responsibility too. Not all victims are blameless. And, mishaps can happen. If we scare every company from doing business in Pakistan, then get ready for even longer aaTay kee qataar!
    Bachay paidaa huay jaa rahae hai’n, rehnay ko ghar nahi’n hae- saaraa jahan hamaaraa, saaray jahan say achhaa hindustan hamaaraa….

    Let me tell you guys a story….this chinioti guy came to me once, about 20 years ago, and said sir jee, mae research kar rahaa hoo’n keh Pepsi may pepsin hai yaa koi aur pig byproduct tou nahi’n….Mae nay kahaa abay saalay tairay baap kee to 7up bottling company hae, yeh pepsi may kee dilchaspi….and look at Pakistani or desi mentality….sir, pepsi meray chachaa kee hai, and if it has pig byproduct, then if we advertise that, people will not buy pepsi and 7up sale will go up!

    So, guys don’t go overboard in your zeal against multinationals. They provide employment and tax to the bhooki-nangi qaum.

    And, shaheed for what? For refusing to wear life jacket?
    The guy died…innaa lillahee…..but shaheed?

    Balma Shaheed

  17. بستنی (wasiq) on September 1st, 2009 @ 6:51 pm

    @Balmaa jee….sir I am very disappointed with your line of thinking….nobody should be above the law and retribution….no matter how big he is….and let me remind you that this company does not work for our lively hood…it makes money for owners and shareholder out of this boki nangi qom of yours….Iam not sure why it has not yet taken the responsibility of the tragic incident…

  18. balma on September 1st, 2009 @ 7:12 pm

    All corporations work for the benefit of their share holders.
    Good corporations also do charity work and social uplift work but some guys here (usually jamati types) have problem with that too…remember metro superstore posting?….but basically, corporations are working for the maximum profit of share holders.
    The guy participating in the contest, who unfortunately died, should have worn the life jacket. Period!

    Look at today’s Jang: there is a picture of 20 bhookaa nangaas on top of a devilsih mini bus in karachi. If the bus has an accident, and all the people on the top of the minibus die….will they be shaheed? Will it be their fault or will we be Tasvay bahaa rahae ho’n gae yahaa’n?

    When you go to Karachi beaches, you know there are no life guards! If you drown (allahnakhwastah), are you shaheed? Or was it your fault that you went into the ocean jaantay boojhtay that this chay-vow country does not have life guards?

  19. بستنی (wasiq) on September 1st, 2009 @ 7:42 pm

    PS:you can play the walls music all night…it signifies nothing….I don’t use clear shampoo….the case could go to the house of lords if necessary…..prepare!

  20. بستنی (wasiq) on September 1st, 2009 @ 7:56 pm

    @balma jee….my very dear and respected friend…it is true that if one falls over from the over crowded mini bus or drown at one of the karachi beaches nobody but his family and friends will miss or regret it…and in most cases people and the law might blame him for being so careless…but here the case is very different….a multinational sponsored ad campaign show oraganised by the most popular television channel of the county…has caused the life of a young man with bright future hopes and aspirations…and you want me to believe that nothing happened …relax and forget ..eat banana and throw away the peel…that is not done SIR…that is not…

  21. balma on September 1st, 2009 @ 8:45 pm

    Fasiq: I will say ‘lakum deenakum, valay-yadeen’!
    And, one final note: the unlucky guy was offered a life jacket (I read), but he was careless too in refusing to wear it…just like the guys who travel on top of trains and buses and guys who walk into Karachi ocean.

    Of course, the company managing the farce (reality show) should have made life jackets mandatory, and people can complain about that…but what i hate is this jamati style blame game which every news person or journalist likes to play in Pakistan. Whole media is controlled by jamati islami types in Paksitan. We need jobs in Pakistan. We need investments in Pakistan. Stop this mo-fu Hamid Mir types to ruin our economy.

  22. pakab (unregistered) on September 1st, 2009 @ 9:02 pm

    Who ever those are running the media now a days but its clear that we have to fight against bribe to save our institutions. We have to kik out Hamid MIr Type Journalist Amir Liaqat Type Religious Persons. One day u will see these politiciens and Big giants will be in Dubai and we are working and exploring Thar Coal Reserve with Americans, and Prroducing cost effective and human friendly atempts rather than a RS 40 millions reality Show. NO more GEO will be there to miss guide us. You , Me and all of us will be happy.

  23. fasee on September 1st, 2009 @ 10:41 pm

    @ wasiq

    Sir snap me out of this nightmare, as I am feeling more and more aligned with balmaz thinking pattren.

    Foolish bravado is treated as bahadur, or sher jawan etc etc….and if something goes wrong, then usual suspect, the govt or system is blamed….I m not saying they r not at fault, just saying they r not alone..the victem has to share responsibilty where its due.

    Car or motor cycle ki takker me kasoor hamesha car walay ka hota hai…why…bcoz bike walay ko chot lagti hai, sab usi phaticher ki taraf hu jatay hain, without even looking or asking tyhe fact why he wheeling, wrong turing overtaking or something…..dats our psyche.

    In the case under discussion, Unilver is at fault for showing a pastery to a starved audience.

    A collection of handpicked bunch of phaticherz, with a bhook for money,fame or both…..they put them in extreme scenarios where some can be lethal or life threatining……our phaticharz under presure to win, jump right in, where they shud have backed out.

    Its like, I saying to my driver, I bet u can’t stand in my pool in december all nite, I bet 10,000 on dat….now the poor wud be under so much presure to try and win at eveyrcost, no matter if he may die.

    Yet its morally uncorrect on my side to put one into such scenario, without checking the dangerous range….like in fear factor they have tolerance limits of average mentioned. And closly monitored.

    But sir, dats the diffrecne between creators and monkies who copy those creators.

  24. The Unknown (unregistered) on September 2nd, 2009 @ 1:13 am

    May his soul rest in peace! And his family be given the strength to bear the loss….

    but I think its not fair for unilever…. A reality show is supposed to look dangerous and life threatening. No matter what security measures are undertaken, accidents do happen every now and then! Blaming unilever or the organizers for the tragic loss is not fair, because nobody in their sane mind would actually let this kind of a thing happen in front of their own eyes. “Steve Irwin, the croc hunter” passed away in an accident while filming a documentary…. Was NatGeo blamed for it?

  25. بستنی (wasiq) on September 2nd, 2009 @ 1:29 am

    @Balma jee…sir aap achchay toh woh log hain jo “inna lil lah…”keh kay quorma kha kay ghar waloun ko lakh rupess ka check dey kar hukumat ay punjab zindabad…kay narey lagatey huay…apney apney gharoun ko challey jatey hain….aur tv on kar kay sujatey hain….kaam uz kam woh yeah toh nahein kehtey na kay….he was destined to die either way…because he was not fit for it….all you are concerned with is that you want to send a clear message to the sponsors that the nations youth are up for grabs…you can do whatever you like with our kids…we don’t mind…even if you throw them off a cliff…and say “Oh the poor chap refused to tie a bunjee ….he thought he could fly….and we gave him a chance to show his talent….we are very sorry this wont happen again..”
    Now let me differentiate for your confused mind (and fasee saab’s)between a jahil phatechar dying naturally because of lack of due diligence on his own part and a contestant of a reality show dying due to the negligence of the organisers….
    Most of the time the jahil phatichar dies unsuspectingly of whats coming his or her way…a high tide,a bus hits a brake making him to fall off…etc
    In a reality show…both the contestant and the organisers must be fully aware of the series of events that occurs or can occur in case the contestant fails to do the required task…you cannot ask a contestant to do what has previously not been tested by expert professional….
    as for the responsibility is concern….you know that when somebody relinquishes his or her rights it automatically becomes the responsibility of the person or organization in whos favor the relinquishment is invoked….for example when a pakistani girl forgoes her right to divorce(khula) the degree of responsibility shifts to the families and the union councils to safegaurd her marriage in case of Husbands infidelity .
    also when a soldier giveup the right to life and security for sake of his country….the responsibility increases on the state and the institutions of the state to protect his life and safegaurd the future of his family….
    does your so called multinational felt the responsibility to his life when he choose to follow their requirement …we must also remember that most of the time the contestant of these shows are very ordinary people with no previous experience of such hard life threatening stunts….now I have to confess that I am not fully aware of the nature of the paramedic aid provided to him and if that was in expert opinion adequate ….I think a full fledged criminal investigation by a team of very impartial experts is in order…
    Dear Balma jee and everybody please don’t worry about the foreign investment of the company….I can assure you they are not doing a charity in this country…they can’t runaway or de-invest….over one incident…there are precedents of thousands of wrong doings by multinational across the globe…support the family of the deceased and let the culprits realise that business is business and the life and future of our youth is not a cup of tea….thanks!

  26. balma on September 2nd, 2009 @ 1:45 am


    I do see your point.


  27. بستنی (wasiq) on September 2nd, 2009 @ 2:10 am

    @balma jee….thankyou Sir.God bless You!

  28. fasee on September 2nd, 2009 @ 5:01 am

    @ wasiq

    Sir agreed to most the points well defeined by you….except the one of responsibility.

    Level of morals of govt or multinationals is an open secret in this part of region. Saying I closed my eyes and trusted them makes it look like an iodine defecient person.

    If I to indulge in extreme sports, bunjee jumping parajumping etc etc, I wud double n triple check the arrangments, what fail safe mechanisms are inplace, do I really am made for this, and so on, that’s a little checklist we all do and should have in one corner of mind, if its not there then that guy wud be a buffon sorry to say, trusting the world to watch his her ass while he frolic around….

    When going to a water park or amusement park….on hi rise slides, under your defence, we shud be care free and indulge in all rides trusting the managmet for ensuring the higest level of security n maintenance……but can we..?? After all, no matter how much good your defence can be in putting the blame and penelising them, the life wud be lost, never to be reversible…..so due dilligiance humaray apnay mafad me hai.

    Aap right side me gari chalaoo dosri wrong side me a raha hu…don’t you look both ways just to make sure nobody is coming the wrong way??….baad me lakh usay penelise ker daloo ke salay meri gari thook di etc etc….but what if some irreversable damage occurs..?? Sir then lakh defense sahee, jana wala tu apana hota hai na, wo tu lot ke nai ata, that’s what really matters, baki sirf lafazi hai, compensations, blame games, future fail safe mechanisms blah blah blah….there is a dead body out there which can’t be bought back to his previous condition…period

  29. Pak Satire (unregistered) on September 2nd, 2009 @ 8:00 pm
  30. Saad Khan (unregistered) on September 4th, 2009 @ 9:01 pm

    I have certain questions which certainly questions the credibility of Unilever:

    1. Why didn’t Unilever issue a press statement immediately after the incident and why did it took for an online website to break the news? Were they trying to hide something. Their behavior certainly shows that they also felt guilty about this incident otherwise they would have shared the facts.

    2. People wrote Unilever Pakistan and even their London & Rotterdam offices asking for clarification & explanation of events which caused the participant’s death but there was no response. Aren’t these people concerned about the reputation of the company?

    3. Why weren’t there life guards available when the challenge involved people swimming in a large pond with 7kg of weight tied to them?

    4. Why hasn’t the video footage been provided to the grieved family?

    5. Even if Unilever takes no liability of the incident (as claimed by their official PR person that Unilever Pakistan accepts no liability for Khan’s death but is in discussions to provide for Khan’s wife and four children “out of rightness”). What about their CSR agenda and moral responsibility. They are as various reports suggest that they are working on a financial settlement with the family. If this is the truth then what is causing the delay? Two weeks have passed and still no relief has been provided (seems like a Country Security issue!!!).

    6. What’s the guarantee that they have not pressurized Saad’s family to keep away from the media in return for compensation?

    It’s the way Unilever has handled this issue is what raises questions about the company’s credibility. They have left so many questions unanswered that people have questioned the competency of the their staff handling this case. All this could have been avoided if decisions were taken more logically and rationally.

  31. Shamsi (shamsi) on September 5th, 2009 @ 10:44 am

    so far,

    Unilever is only an sponsor, managed by Mindshare – The Program concept idea and ownership is under Indian managment!

    to my understanding, selection of candidates and ADVENTURE terms+conditions, signing of contract is done by the Program owners not the sponsors or anyone else. The Final say come from Sponsors who only SELECT person(s) who fit to be a model for their product.

    – STILL Mindshare & Unilever shall ACT wise, step forward and support the bereaved family.

  32. Dania Khan (unregistered) on September 9th, 2009 @ 8:14 pm
  33. Ashar S (unregistered) on September 10th, 2009 @ 5:12 pm

    Companies seldom make same mistake twice. Reality show unlikely to be repeated. So mourn but don’t think it is changing minds. They must already be changed. This company hee for 60 years. Solid and makes good products and employs thousands. Let down by outsiders taken for this show. I will mourn alone.

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