This movie has a lot of spunk – literally sometimes (really!). Vicky Donor is a comedy that starts off with a social conscience on the issue of infertility, it then moves to a message about the need to donate healthy sperm regularly, and by the end it advocates the need to adopt, managing to also include the conventional Hindi love story pre- and post-intermission.
Dr. Baldev Chaddha, brilliantly played by Annu Kapoor, is part businessman and part infertility doctor. He hounds newcomer to the big screen Vicky Arora, played cheekily by Ayushman Khurana, to become his star sperm donor and earn some decent money in the process.
Reluctant at first, Vicky eventually gives in, not least because his post-college career shows no signs of taking off anytime soon. New career: sperm donor. Middle class, wealthy, and foreign couples all start to benefit from Vicky’s donations: no less than 53 children are conceived during the course of the film. Enter our leading lady pre-interval, Ashima Roy, another first-timer on the big screen who is played impressively by Yami Gautam. And with the love interest, the social comedy shifts to romantic comedy – and the human complications soon set in.
Vicky is a Punjabi munda/boy, with his roots in pre-partition India-cum-Pakistan, while Ashima is a young and career-minded Bengali woman from Kolkata. Both live with their families in the metropolis of New Delhi. The film gently and cleverly plays around with dialogue about reproduction, pre- and post-partition India, the Aryan race, history regional parochialism and stereotypes, the family unit and capitalism. It’s quite a mix. Be careful though, because if you reach for your popcorn or ice cream you might miss some of the more subtle jokes. But they are definitely there, and carefully layered throughout the script. Lines like: “I’m a doctor not god” and “Infertility is the cancer of modern life,” will resonate with audiences.
The film also blends into its comedy witty critiques of contemporary Bollywood’s marriage with cricket and other media and entertainment industries, with everyone wanting a son or daughter to come from sperm that helped produce offspring like Lady Gaga, David Beckham, Mahendra Singh Dhoni or Shahrukh Khan.
There are plenty of subtle pleasures in this film to charm you over its two hour running time. Vicky’s mother and ageing grandmother, played wonderfully by Dolly Ahluwalia and Kamlesh Gill, drink shots of whisky together, get high, curse and bond with each other as mother and daughter-in-law. It’s a joy to watch. The use of coarse Punjabi swear words that are stereotypically offensive and yet endearing work well here. The romantic tension in the second half, as our romantic leading couple aren’t sure if they can get married because of their elders’ prejudices about Punjabis and Bengalis is a little hit and miss at first, but is forgotten with the much better dramatization of the marital conflict that ensues between the newly married couple. The sensual kiss and love making between the pair simply happens as a matter of fact on screen, without any unnecessary Bollywood grandiose fanfare or coy innuendos; it happens maturely and as a fact of life. The song “Paani da Rang/The Color of Water” works beautifully as a non-diegetic backdrop to the highs and lows of our couple’s relationship.
The number of firsts and career development stages that are attached to this film also come together well: Our young hero and heroine have successfully marked their crossover from their TV careers and onto the silver screen, and should they carry on with such convincing performances, acting stardom may well await. Shoojit Sircar’s latest will put him more firmly on the film-making map, especially after his first lesser known film Yahaan (2005), which was a love story set amidst terrorism in Kashmir.
And the reason why actor John Abraham is seen dancing and bare-chested to the energetic Bhangra-laced “Rum and Whisky” song in the film’s trailer and end credits? Because this is his first co-production venture, and he’s all out promoting his new baby (pun intended). Together, the cast and crew also manage to present a believable message about adoption, even if it’s mixed up in the fall out of messy human emotions and the hard to resist allure of biological succession. Vicky Donor is full of spunk, lots of it – and its heart is in the right place, too.
Rajinder Dudrah is Senior Lecturer in Film and Media Studies at the University of Manchester, U.K., and author of ‘Bollywood Travels: Culture, Diaspora and Border Crossings in Popular Hindi Cinema.’