I had mixed feelings about seeing Vicky Donor. It seemed to have the recipe to be just another cheeky Bollywood comedy, yet everyone kept recommending it to me. I was curious about John Abraham’s debut as a producer, but the entire premise seemed to me to be coming from a place of male privilege. A male lead is blessed with amazing fertility, and as such encounters an onslaught of problems – how difficult it is to be a man in today’s Indian society! However, after watching it, I can attest that the movie does do an all right job of dealing with some women’s issues (given that there is a male producer, director, and lead… and that the premise is male privilege…).
Vicky Arora is a proud Punjabi who lives a carefree life. Dr. Chadda runs a struggling male infertility clinic. He provides sperm donations for families who are unable to have kids, but is currently unable to provide good samples to his customers because of a lack of good sperm donors. He goes on a search for some virile sperm, and stumbles across Vicky Arora – who it turns out is incredibly fertile due to his carefree, “village-wala” lifestyle. Dr. Chadda tells him he is extra fertile because he is of “pure Aryan race”, “a descendant of Alexander the Great”, as though white people are all just super fertile (<sarcasm>omg, that must be why we all just go around having sex all the time!</sarcasm>). This also disregards the theory that Aryans are really the writers of the Vedas and native to India, not descendants of Alexander the Great. Anyway, the doctor proceeds to stalk and pressure Vicky until he finally caves and decides to donate his sperm.
This stalking is interesting to me: it resembles the type of street harassment many females living in India (myself included) have had to deal with. I again have mixed feelings. This could be a good thing, giving males a way to relate to relate to women through the way they can sympathize with Vicky. However, I can’t help but think about the fact that if this film were remade with a female lead, she would be pressured into sex trafficking, raped, and killed within the first five minutes, and the film wouldn’t be able to proceed. With a male lead, the film can still be happy-go-lucky despite the fact that he has a stalker who is obsessed with making children with him.
Early on, we are also introduced to two strong female characters. The first is Ashima Roy, Vicky’s love interest. Ashima is a strong, progressive-minded Bengali woman who carries a job working in an established bank. Vicky walks into her bank and starts hitting on her. She turns him down. He walks in the next day and bothers her again. He keeps running into her, and she is understandably creeped out by her stalker. She tells him over and over again that she does not want to be in a relationship – not just with him but with anyone. She is an independent woman who wants to focus on her career. Apparently all Dr. Chadda’s harassment of Vicky has done nothing to help him realize that pestering people over and over again to do something is wrong – but at least Ashima is standing strong. However, the movie isn’t over yet.
Soon enough, Ashima shows us she isn’t as strong as we thought she was. Ashima tries to hail a rickshaw at night, and the one that stops already has a man in it (Vicky). He tells her that Delhi isn’t safe at night and so she should take a ride with him instead of traveling alone – and she does! This is in the top ten list of “things I would never do in India”, as a strange man asking a single female to join him in his rickshaw at night is 9 out of 10 times an indication that he wants to act inappropriately towards her. Fortunately, it works out fine for Ashima, as Vicky drops her to her house safely.
Then comes the best part. Ashima’s friends tell her she should go on a date with Vicky – that by not dating him she is being a “bore”. This is all the convincing she needs! She sees him the next day, but tells him it’s not a date, just a thank you for dropping her safely at her house – as if rewarding him for not raping her is somehow better than going on a date with him. Of course, one song sequence later and she is confessing her deepest darkest secrets, professing her love, and begging him to marry her.
After intermission, they get married. Their families are first entirely against this cross-cultural marriage, stereotyping Bengalis and Punjabis through light-hearted banter. This is one of the highlights of the film, and also one of my favorite things about India. Stereotyping is the way that India deals with being such a hodge-podge of diverse cultures all smashed together into one country, and in this film it makes for great comedy that we could never enjoy in America without people complaining about how seriously offensive it is.
Throughout this is when we really grow to love the other strong woman in the film: Vicky’s grandmother. At some point Vicky says to her, “There are two truly modern things in Delhi: the metro system, and you.” She could care less that her daughter-in-law comes from a different culture, she enjoys late night drinking, and she complains about the lack of data on her brand new 16GB iPhone. She is wonderful. The families eventually agree to let their children get married because of her – she pushes them into a battle of “which family is the most progressive” until everyone agrees that love prevails. It’s great.
(This is where real spoilers start to come, so stop reading until the next image if you want to avoid knowing the entire plot.)
Then comes the twist. Ashima has tubal blockage and can’t have children. Vicky has somehow kept the fact that he is a sperm donor from her throughout their entire relationship, but now that the most fertile man in the world cannot have children, the truth is finally revealed. Ashima is rightfully very upset that Vicky has kept his true career from her this entire time. Ashima is wrongfully also very upset that Vicky has been doing such a “dirty” job, and leaves him to go to her family in Calcutta.
Eventually, everyone is on Vicky’s side other than Ashima, with her dad implying that Vicky should be the one leaving her for her being infertile, not the other way around. This terrible thought makes Ashima realize that the real reason she left Vicky was because she was jealous that he can have children while she cannot. She goes with Vicky to a party that Dr. Chadda’s clinic has arranged, with all of Vicky’s 53 children in attendance.
Ashima now realizes that the pain she feels at not being able to conceive is the same feeling all these families felt before Vicky’s sperm helped turn their lives around. This makes her have a new respect for Vicky’s career choice. Furthermore, one of Vicky’s children has been orphaned, and they seamlessly adopt her. (I really mean seamlessly – they literally just walk in to the orphanage and pick her up, with no paperwork, fees, or bribery. Nothing.) Everyone lives happily ever after.
Adoption is still very stigmatized in India. A friend of mine started a fantastic organization, Foster Care India, that is working to introduce the idea of foster care to the country, but the point where this is widely accepted is still very far off. The idea of taking a child into your home with an unknown caste, unknown culture, and unknown family background is not popular. As such, I think this movie did a fantastic job tackling this topic and beginning to destigmatize this idea, even if it was only touching the surface of this issue.
I also was very impressed by the performances of Ayushmann Khanna (Vicky) and the supporting actors. Ayushmann is delightful throughout the movie, and the truthfulness he brought to his character’s story was one of the main things keeping me in my seat until the end of the film. He is also a musician, and both composed and sang the best song of the soundtrack: “Pani Da Rang”. His songs from his upcoming movie are also spectacular and I suggest everyone checks them out. Yami Gautam (Ashima) is at most points fairly weak in her acting, but this could be more the fault of the poorly written character than her own. The choices her character makes over the course of the film are very difficult to justify, and therefore it would be almost impossible to perform Ashima’s role in a believable way. The other supporting characters – most notably: Dr. Chadda, Vicky’s mother, Vicky’s grandmother, and Ashima’s father – are all fantastic and lovable, even if Dr. Chadda’s dialogue relies a bit too much on the shock effect of the word “sperm”.
Overall, I have to recommend this movie. It was one of many films in 2012 that are really working to shape a new direction in Indian cinema and society, and John Abraham deserves to be commended for this. From a feminist point of view, I also believe it was made as well as it could have been, given that the premise was lacking in the first place.