Bollywood’s formula has always been to take run-of-the-mill themes and melodramatize the heck out of them – the lovers from different social classes, the son taking revenge on his father’s killer, the love triangle. So when a movie does the exact opposite, taking an outlandish theme and treating it as a normal, everyday phenomenon, it comes as a welcome surprise.
Vicky Donor has an absurd, far-fetched premise; whoever heard of someone making a living off of sperm donation? But Vicky Arora (Anshumann Khurrana) does, and his story is told with panache and sensitivity. The film could have easily veered into caricature and sexploitation any number of times, but director Shoojit Sircar handles the tough subject with incredible deftness, never once making the audience uncomfortable, even though the word “sperm” is as plentiful in the dialogues as Vicky’s “contributions”. The laughs come from the authentic North Indian dialogues and the situations, not from embarassment. Best of all, everyone in the film seems like an average grounded person, not a star emoting for the camera. In fact, Vicky Donor almost feels like a documentary on the virtues of sperm donation, though one that is genuinely funny and heart-warming.
Sircar achieves this feat by casting relative unknowns who, nevertheless, are completely comfortable with their unusual roles. Khurrana, who debuts in Bollywood with this movie, is a TV host with an engaging boy-next-door appeal. His comic timing is impeccable and his “Lajpat Nagar” mannerisms are pitch perfect in Vicky Donor. Yaami Gautam, who plays Ashima, Vicky’s Bengali love interest, also comes from TV. Both the leads are restrained, letting the supporting actors chew up the scenery.
Among those is Annu Kapoor as Dr. Chaddha, the infertility specialist who nags Vicky into his occupation. Kapoor seems to be playing a version of himself, so this is an easy role for him. My favorites in the movie were Vicky’s mom Dolly, played by the excellent Dolly Ahluwalia, and Biji, Vicky’s grandmother, played by theater actress Kamlesh Gill. The interactions between the two are the highlight of the movie. The two characters are wonderfully drawn and elicit the most laughs and sympathy; they seem so real that it feels like they were inspired by family members of the script writer.
And that brings us to the real hero of the film – the script written by Juhi Chaturvedi. This is her first script for Hindi movies and I wish there was a way to keep track of her future work because this script is just brilliant. Even though the dialogues may be a bit of a slog for folks not familiar with the Punjabi-heavy Hindi of the north, they are just very, very clever and funny.
The songs (all of which play in the background) are excellent too, and make me want to look them up online. The new Bollywood trend of letting the songs serve as a backdrop to the movie rather than have the actors lip-synch to them is such a relief; for one, it brings a much needed dose of realism to the proceedings. Second, it allows for a variety of singing talents, not just the conventional hero-heroine voices that dominated most of Bollywood’s history.
I did have a couple of quibbles. First is, of course, the elephant in the room, the premise that someone can actually make money off of getting off. The second is how cavalierly adoption is dismissed as a viable option for infertile couples. Are Indian couples more comfortable with artificial insemination through sperm donation rather than adoption? Aren’t there many deserving babies already born and waiting for love and attention?
Perhaps there is another movie in that. Vicky Donor, for its part, skates over the issue with a token dialogue or two, but it makes up with wit and charm in the subject it does tackle.
Kudos to actor John Abraham for financing this little gem. Now that the low budget indie comedy genre is finally taking off in India, it may be time to shed the “Bollywood” tag or reserve it for the execrable, derivative big-budget crap that seems to have its own audience. Movies like Vicky Donor, Dhobi Ghat, and even Delhi Belly deserve to be called just Hindi movies or Indian movies.
Can Vicky Donor be seen on DVD? Yes. But it is worth forking over some of your hard-earned cash to check it out in your local multiplex. It may not have special effects or the Bollywood oomph that make for a theater spectacle, but it is a sweet, funny movie that would be great for a couple’s night out.
Kid Advisory: For obvious reasons, DO NOT take your kids to the movie unless you are aiming for an early birds and bees lesson. There are also a couple of sensitively shot love scenes ( the kissing is getting better and better in Bollywood as actors get over their inhibitions) and the subject matter is much too adult. Older teenagers might enjoy the movie, but not with their parents.:)