December 2013 Filed in: Films
A prejudiced doctor runs an unsuccessful sperm bank with a precarious business model that depends on incessant sperm donations from one man to keep the outfit running. Add to that, he uses unscientific, proto-aryan, eugenics-like reasoning to assess potential sperm donors. One day, he randomly zones in on Vicky from his apartment terrace, and sniffs out his fecundity like a piranha sniffing out blood. Idle, blithely unconcerned young men are homologous with Bonobo chimpanzees or newly plowed fields or villagers (this last one is his real analogy). From then on, he hounds Vicky for days to sign up as a sperm donor.
All the patients and potential donors in the movie are caricatured, and serve mostly to substantiate existing class and gender stereotypes. The movie isn’t the best advertisement for sperm donors or assisted-reproduction patients.
The doctor suckers Vicky into getting tested for donor eligibility. The lab scientist marvels at his high sperm count (In reality, this is not unusual for a healthy man of his age), and the test results vindicate the doctor's claim that only Vicky’s sperms can satisfy his patients' lofty desires, even though confidentiality agreements preclude patients from knowing who their sperm donor is.
Vicky eventually comes around, as he sees this as an easy way to make a quick buck, and works out a partnership deal with the doctor. The only hitch is that he may be blackballed from his community if they find out about his comings and goings. So he keeps his family, including his girlfriend (later wife) Ashima in the dark about his arrangement, even though she is scarred from a previous marriage to a perfidious man, and is touchy about trust.
As can be expected from a simple three-act, single-track plot, Act Two portends a predictable shitstorm that destroys all the characters' lives. Ashima learns that she can never have a baby because of a tubal block (which, by the way maybe treatable) and that Vicky is a sperm donor. She inarticulately expresses her disillusionment, and cuts and runs from home. Coincidentally, Vicky is also arrested just then for tax evasion (only for one night, because the police officer is stunned into inaction when he learns about sperm banks from the doctor, and neglects to issue further punitive action).
In the interest of saving Vicky and Ashima's marriage, the doctor breaks all confidentiality agreements, without a picosecond of hesitation, and rounds up fifty three of Vicky’s donor-conceived children and their parents in a happy park for display. On seeing them, Ashima is overcome with emotion and fesses up to Vicky that she left him out of jealousy, because of his stupendous ability to procreate (and her inability thereof). In the interest of ending the movie, she expels all other legitimate reasons one would expect of a self-professed “modern woman”.
The doctor then introduces them to a donor-conceived child who lost her parents in a car accident. Vicky and Ashima adopt her, and everyone lives happily ever after.
Indian regulation concerning assisted-reproduction is flaky at best. Sperm banks follow ICMR guidelines, but there are no real laws in place. Anyone can open a fertility clinic without permission. There are also illegal and unmonitored sperm donation websites with detailed donor-profiles that list their physical characteristics and other attributes for people to choose from.
But, while malpractices abound, this movie is about a well-meaning, legitimate practice that at least intended to honor ICMR guidelines (such as testing and confidentiality). A man cannot father 53 donor-kids in a legit practice, except in Bollywood make-believe. In reality, a donor is allowed to donate 75 times towards the conception of a maximum of six children; and cannot make enough (at best Rs.1000 per donation) to sustain himself on donor compensation alone.
There are couples who seek “superior” sperm; but they are likely to trace the master-race to more “credible” (now definitely illegal) sources, such as Brokpas in the Himalayas, and not some random sperm bank in Delhi. Patients definitely don’t approach legit clinics asking for Aryan babies.
I don’t know if one comes out of this movie with considerate feelings for couples seeking reproductive assistance, or for sperm donors who volunteer with no compensation (as is the case most of the time). The movie has encouraged many college kids to become donors for pocket money. I wonder if this is a good thing!
The movie underlines several class, gender and inter-regional stereotypes (admittedly enjoyable, and maybe the only thing that kept me going, but I hope we outgrow them). It [half-heartedly] tries to portray women as being independent, but they are still far from being modern or progressive. One of Ashima’s bank colleagues goads her to date Vicky and not be a “bore”, and that is all the peer pressure she needs to do a 180. The story sustains our positive feelings towards Vicky, even after his disparaging behavior with his needy ex-girlfriend in their break-up scene. For some reason, even though he is flawed, everyone around him feels the need to be contrite (including his relatives who try to rope him into their business).
Today’s google doodle celebrates the birthday of Grace Cooper, “the first lady of software”. How far have we come with regard to gender equality since her time?
The movie disintegrated way before that underwear scene! If you have watched the movie, here's a rib-tickling summary that you might enjoy.
Lately I have been reading books about how humans have been obsessed with genetic engineering since 12,000 BC, when plants and animals were domesticated through selective and deliberate breeding. Back then, we were preoccupied with converting wild rye to more domestic varieties, or grey wolves to dogs; Now, we have come as far as being able to accurately predict the whole genome of an unborn baby by sequencing the DNA from the mother’s blood and the father’s saliva; It won’t be much longer before we are able to manipulate our genetic makeup, and correct mutations which cause diseases.
When Star Trek was created in the mid-1960s, we had just come out of a very dark age that coincided with the two world wars; when scientists and politicians in several countries began targeting humans with ‘unfit’ traits, and forbidding them from marrying or procreating. The American Eugenics Society encouraged the creation of a superior human race through selective breeding. They organized public lectures, brought out publications, conducted “fitter family contests” among other things to educate people on the laws of inheritance. Here’s an example of a chart displayed at the 1929 Kansas Free Fair!
Many eugenics policies and programs, such as genetic screening, racial segregation, segregation of 'degenerate' and 'unfit' humans, compulsory sterilization, forced abortions and euthanasia were implemented in several countries, such as America, Brazil, Canada and several European countries (the reasons for and the methods of implementation were different in each country).
32 States in the US had eugenics programs. In North Carolina alone, more than 7600 men, women and children were sterilized, oftentimes against their will, even for reasons such as being 'feebleminded', 'troubled' or 'poor'; and this went on till the mid-1970s! Part of the reason for the sterilization was that abortion was illegal, birth control was not easily available in some places, and giving birth to an unfit child was just not an option! It was not until 2002 that the Governor of North Carolina formerly apologised to the victims, repealed the involuntary sterilization law, and ruled out sterilization for reasons of 'hygiene' and 'convenience'. Even today, a proposal to compensate the victims ($50,000 per person) is being debated, and only a few hundred victims were willing to reveal themselves because of the continuing stigma of being sterilized. Victims in other countries too were reluctant to come forward for the same reason.
Star Trek exemplifies one train of thought on what might have happened if we had continued on that path of racial cleansing. It is a fictional account, but one that has tremendous significance, especially given what was happening in real life during the time the story was conceived. If you watch the TV series, you will realize that every episode touches on one or more contentious real-life issues of that time that are relevant even today; and gives you a lot to reflect on!
Now to put ourselves and the movie in the context of its timeline:
According to the Star Trek timeline, we are somewhere between the Eugenics War of the early 1990s and World War III of the 2050s; The movie takes place 300 years from the Eugenics war, by which times humans have put their savage past behind them and moved on.
Prior to the 1990s, human scientists had been working on improving their race through selective breeding and genetic engineering. In the process, they created superhumans called Augments, with superior physical and mental abilities. What was unanticipated was that the Augments would want to dominate the world. Khan, the most powerful of his kind, appointed himself "absolute ruler" and ruled a quarter of the Earth, and close to 40 countries. His reign was mostly admired, because he was a man of peace, and there were no wars or violence under him, that is, until the humans rose up against the Augments. A huge war broke out, nearly devastating Earth. Most of the Augments were killed, except Khan and 84 others who managed to escape Earth in a sleeper ship, where they remained cryogenically frozen for three hundred years, until the crew of Enterprise discovered them in 2267. The current movie is set in this time period.
Soon after the Augments were deposed, not all was peaceful on Earth. By the 2050s, World War III broke out between various factions still in conflict on earth about genetic engineering, governments controlling military with narcotics and issues of ecoterrorism. All this led to World War III and the resulting nuclear exchange killed 37 million humans, leaving Earth mostly uninhabitable because of radioactivity, supply shortages, and the collapse of most of the major governments. Hundreds and thousands of humans were also mercilessly killed by evil troops to eliminate the spread of radiation sickness, impurities and mutations to future generations.
It took two generations of peace attempts for the post-atomic horror to give way to unified world alliances and end poverty and disease. During the 2060s, a team of engineers built Earth's first warp ship, which drew the attention of a Vulcan ship passing near Earth, who made their first contact with humans, and ushered us into a more peaceful era.
By the early 2100s, Earth was finally rid of poverty, disease, war and hunger. A United Earth Government was formed in 2150; A non-profit economy was developed, and replicators were used to satisfy material needs; although people were no longer obsessed with the accumulation of wealth or possessions. Humans were mostly focussed on enriching themselves in a secular, non-religious environment free of superstitions. A great deal of emphasis was placed on the importance of continued social and personal development, and the rest as we know is history!
Now… in the Reality meets Sci-fi spirit … here's a Spock talks to Spock Prime type video: