Shoma A. Chatterji

Surrogacy is too fragile a subject to be turned into a mainstream film.

But this does not stop filmmakers from investing their creative juices to create an ‘agenda’ backing surrogacy which, to all practical purposes, is not exactly moral but entirely an marketable “commodity” that promises to fulfil the desire for motherhood for women who cannot become biological mothers.

In real life, this comes with a heavy price tag for the woman who sells her “womb” to carry a baby for the barren woman and in effect, also places her already malnourished health at stake that might pose a danger to her own biological children born of marriage.

Mimi, directed by Laxman Utekar, deals with surrogacy with kid gloves, and has co-authored the film along with Roshan Shankar inspired by the Marathi film Mala Ayee Vhhaychy (2011) based on a story by Samruddhi Porey.

One track of the film covers the dream and passion of the pretty young woman Mimi (Kirti Sanon) 25, of finding a flourishing career in Bollywood cinema as a film star. But the agent tells her that she will have to shell out around Rs.20 lakh to even get there!

The other track covers an American couple, John and Summer, who are in India to find a “healthy and young” surrogate who can carry the sperm of John and make the barren Summer a mother.

Bhanu (Pankaj Tripathi), a driver-cum-tour-guide for the couple, take the couple through a jaunt in the Rajasthani town to look for the “right womb” and they find it in the young, pretty and very independent Mimi. But Mimi is determined to carry her Bollywood dream through and constantly refuses till Bhanu offers her the tempting carrot of Rs.20 lakh – just the sum she needs to fund her Bollywood dreams.

Mimi lies to her naïve parents (Manoj Pehwa and Supriya Pathak) that she is needed to go shoot for a film to Jaipur and the ecstatic but confused parents are not given a choice to say “no” as Bhanu and Mimi have already left for Jaipur along with the American couple.

After a few “trials” at artificial insemination, Mimi gets pregnant and is paid a portion of the money promised. However, soon, her bubble bursts when the gynaecologist informs the couple and the pregnant Mimi that the foetus probably has Down’s Syndrome and at once, the American couple flee the country, refusing to accept the baby or pay the balance money.

Bhanu is the catalyst, the friend, philosopher and guide who volunteers to give company to the now desperate Mimi to carry her pregnancy through going to the extent of pretending to be her “Muslim” husband when a pregnant Mimi comes home to her parents. She staunchly refuses to abort the baby, stunning the lady doctor with her home ground philosophy on the life status of the unborn foetus.

Once the little infant is born, without Down’s Syndrome, the script begins to climb fast down the hill it had risen up to with too many incredibly fanciful trips through melodramatic twists and turns that do not go well with what went before.

The American couple come back to claim their White baby but both Bhanu and Mimi angrily throw them out. The husband threatens to go to court but this does not happen and they finally settle on adopting an orphan girl which they could have done to begin with. But then, Mimi would never get made!

Though Pankaj Tripathi is as usual brilliant as ever in the role of Bhanu, the very character does not stand the farthest stretch of imagination and his initially angry wife also becoming a foster parent to the little child stretches the arms of unreality even further.

Mimi’s character minus the sob story of compulsion-driven-by-poverty offers a more contemporary and distinct perspective to the entire film enriched by Kirti Sanon’s wonderful performance in a role many of her contemporaries might not have touched with a ten-foot-long pole is powerful, confident and devoid of theatrics.

Manoj Pehwa and Supriya Pathak fit their roles to a tee. Mimi happily surrenders to motherhood and banishes all dreams of a Bollywood career. The little white boy who plays her son is cute and cuddly. However, one would have thought that a White boy born to a Rajasthani girl would have led to serious questions in the conservative neighbourhood so it is strange that this does not happen.

Is this again, a suggestive hint at racism in reverse and the baby is accepted in a ‘coloured’ neighbourhood because it is White?

The cinematography captures the colours of Rajasthan though the editing, cutting to the next scene by sweeping across the rooftops of Jaipur could have been much better and seamless. A.R. Rahman’s music for the song numbers leaves much room for improvement as it does not carry the distinctive signature he is known for but the background score is moving. Subrata Chakraborty and Amit Ray's production design is appealing.

Surrogacy as the focus of a narrative has been dealt with since Doosri Dulhan (1983) in which a sex worker was roped in to carry the baby but gets fond of the baby. Directed by Lekh Tandon, the film had noted actors Shabana Azmi, Sharmila Tagore, and Victor Banerjee in lead roles.

The film was inspired by the American film ‘The Baby Maker’. In 2001, Abbas-Mustaan repeated the same plot in Chori Chori Chupke Chupke but both films failed to win mass audience support though it featured top stars like Preity Zinta, Salman Khan and Rani Mukherjee.

The same happens with Meghna Gulzar’s Filhaal which took the subject to a more sociological level without commercial tags but this film too, did not do well.

Mimi is a well-made, entertaining film with dollops of light humour spread across the first half which the OTT audience is happily warming up to. But it appears to be an irony when placed against the reality of surrogacy in India, where Anand, the city in Gujarat, India's cooperative milk capital, has also turned into its surrogacy hub: The Sat Kaival Hospital and Akanksha Infertility Clinic run by Dr Nayana Patel, 55, and her husband Hitesh, 57, churned out 30 babies on average every month according to an article in 2013.

You won't find it mentioned in the 'Vibrant Gujarat' roadmap for Anand district but as far as cooperative movements go, the town offers up the mother of them all: Surrogacy. (August 23, 2013) in The Baby Factory: Surrogacy, the blooming business in Gujarat (https://www.indiatoday.in/magazine/cover-story)