Mimi Tries to Talk About Commercial Surrogacy, But Gets So Much Else Wrong
Netflix's newly released film, Mimi, by director Laxman Utekar, starring Pankaj Tripathi and Kriti Sanon is meant to deal with the complexities of commercial surrogacy, cushioned with humour. But it's really the first scene of the film that gets its teeth into what it actually entails. Commercial surrogacy became legal in India in 2002. Though a Surrogacy (Regulation) Bill, 2019, is now set to ban it completely and to limit even altruistic surrogacy.
The ban, like all actions that are knee jerk, is problematic and much has been written about India's surrogacy bill that discriminates on who can really be a parent (those from LGBTQ community and single women are kept out), while further limiting the rights of women and narrowly defining who can be a 'family'.
The film's premise is also somewhat that - who is a mother?
In its bid to highlight issues with commercial surrogacy, the film falls for the usual cliches on motherhood, and takes a very uninformed approach to abortion.
The first scene gives you a peak into India's 'baby factories' that blossomed across the country, particularly in Anand, Gujarat, - where surrogates - often living in cramped quarters, lend their womb for a cost. Many are willing participants, some are not, there are several tales of exploitation and but also several stories of how commercial surrogacy helped women bring their families out of poverty, while giving joy to those who cannot 'naturally' conceive. A 2012 report claims the industry is worth well over $400 million a year.
Mimi the film takes a bubblegum approach to the debate. No problem with that, but then it gets so many other things wrong.
Mimi, the film's titular character, agrees to be a surrogate to an American couple looking for a 'healthy fit young woman' (it helps that she's beautiful, fair, and is a dancer with a great body).
It's a commercial deal and Mimi will earn Rs 20 lakh on completion of her pregnancy. In real life, a surrogate makes Rs 6-7 lakh plus expenses.
The film shows Mini deal with two failed attempts before she finally conceives. The problem arises when a test to check for chromosomal abnormalities shows that the fetus may have Down Syndrome.
The timeline seems off. Mini appears to be much more ahead in her pregnancy - I guess dramatic licence etc, but imagery matters (more on this below). The fertility specialist, while breaking the news to the American couple, repeatedly uses the word 'baby' to talk about a fetus. The couple flees. A reality that is seen with commercial surrogacy and one of the reasons given for the ban in the Surrogacy Bill.
When Mini is presented with the opportunity to abort the fetus, the speech that follows will make any pro choice person cringe. Mimi refers to the fetus as a baby repeatedly, almost equating abortion (a legal option present to pregnant women in India upto 24 weeks) to murder.
Ultimately, when the pregnancy comes to fruition, the baby born does not have Down Syndrome. (Imagine the possibilities for the film if the baby did indeed have Downs.). The American couple see a video of a white kid dancing with Mimi and rush to India to reclaim the child, four years after abandoning the fetus.
In the meantime, Mimi has given up on her dreams. She is the ultimate sacrificial mother who will put her life on hold for a child she's given birth to.
Who is a mother? The film attempts to find some convoluted answers ending in a vague plot twist meant to encourage one form of parenting over other.
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