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?