Friday, April 27, 2012

Every sperrrm is sacred – an appreciation of Vicky Donor’s Dr Chaddha

Among the many little pleasures of the new film Vicky Donor is the casting of the veteran character actor Annu Kapoor as the single-minded Dr Chaddha, who runs an infertility clinic in Daryaganj. Through his long career, including sporadic appearances in mainstream cinema, Kapoor probably never expected to meet a script that would require him to roll his tongue around the word “sperm” dozens of times. But he does it with aplomb, saying the word with a hard “p” and a stress on the “r” (and emphasising Dr Chaddha’s middle-class Punjabi background in the process) and often accompanying it with an arm movement that mimics a sperm’s wiggly upstream journey. Executed differently, in a different sort of film, the gesture could have been a demonstration of bad taste; instead, it makes you warm to this sincere man who has mentally reduced all human beings to sperm types (“bada heartless sperrrm hai”).


The good doctor is simultaneously Gandhian in his anxiety about the preservation of a man’s vital fluids and Hitler-esque in his ideas about Aryan supremacy (though the implications of the latter trait aren’t explored – it exists mainly to create situational comedy, and Dr Chaddha is in a humanist in all ways that matter). Large sperm models with wide-eyed expressions decorate his office; a sperm-shaped dangler bumps about in the front of his car; he says lines like “Shakal dekhke aadmi ka sperrrm pehchaan sakta hoon”. That all this is done without ever turning him into a sleazeball or a voyeur is a tribute both to Kapoor’s performance and to the way the character is written (though I’d like very much to think a screenplay like this could have been done by a man, I wasn’t at all surprised to learn that it was by a “female sperrrm” – Juhi Chaturvedi).

Throughout, it is obvious that Chaddha is much more interested in sperms than in actual sex. (At times you almost wonder how sound his knowledge of biological processes is: in one hilarious scene, while talking about the demand for celebrities’ sperms, he refers to “Lady Gaga’s sperm”, seemingly unconcerned that she is unlikely to manufacture the little things.) His heart sinks when he learns that his most productive donor (the film’s protagonist Vicky, nicely played by Ayushmann Khurana) might be in a sexual relationship or – even worse – getting married. And there is nothing remotely frat-boyish about their conversations, no sign of a dirty old man engaging in “guy talk” with a randy Lajpat Nagar boy.


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There might appear something surreal about a film where two middle-class Indian men have an upfront, “G-rated” conversation about sperm while eating chola-kulcha at a streetside stall. But I saw these scenes as a natural extension of the paradoxes that exist in Indian society when it comes to sex and procreation: the fact that even deeply conservative people – who wouldn’t dream of discussing “it” with their children – can become feverishly intrusive when the subject of a married couple starting a family arises. (More on that here.) Or the fact that what should be a personal decision might often hinge on the urgent need for an heir to pre-empt your brother taking over the family property. This film extends these absurdities to their logical conclusion. "Sperm aur egg nu meet karva do na!" an overzealous client tells Dr Chaddha in the same tone that a father might employ while arranging a "meeting" for his daughter with a suitable boy.

Among other things, Vicky Donor is a fantasy of aspiration in which a carefree young man might buy his grandmother a 40-inch LCD TV from the money he earns through legal but frowned-upon means. It is also, in a small but significant enough way, a “Delhi film”: when Vicky falls in love with an aloof Bengali beauty (culminating in a  sweet scene where
Rabindrasangeet comes to Lajpat Nagar-4), we are reminded that though Lajpat Nagar and Chittaranjan Park are barely 15 minutes apart, they are different cultural galaxies within the mini-universe of south Delhi. (Of course, games of one-upmanship are played even within each of these pockets: as one Lajpat Nagar resident sniffily says of another, “Yeh toh C-block mentality hai.”)

When Vicky and his girlfriend Ashima decide to get married, the film becomes, for a while, a nod to national integration, and these scenes – well-intentioned as they are – are among its weakest. The caricaturing of vulgar but good-natured Punjabis and uptight, fish-and-high-culture-obsessed Bengalis is much too broad – especially given that both sets of family members are soon revealed to be more accommodating and sensible than the stereotyping suggests.


But by the end, the film has cast its net much wider than Punjabis and Bengalis. In a late scene where the little products of Vicky’s sperm-donating are gathered together with their families, we see that some of the kids are dark-complexioned while others have blonde hair; there are children from north-eastern and south Indian families. Peel away the skin and we’re the same underneath, goes a platitude about human equality, but Vicky Donor doesn’t miss an opportunity to remind us of what we all looked like months before skin and developed organs even came into the equation. Seen in this light, Dr Chaddha is one of the sages and visionaries of our time. Monty Python’s “Every Sperm is Sacred” could well be the soundtrack of his life, though he wouldn’t think of the song as a satire.

15 comments:

  1. By Lady Gaga Sperm, and David Beckham sperm, he meant that the parents wanted a sperm that would produce kids that would go on to become like these celebs. the traits, if you will.

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  2. Sudipta Bhattacharjee1:35 AM, April 28, 2012

    Jai,

    I somehow don't agree with your point about the pre-marriage 'bong' v 'Punju' scenes being very 'broad caricatures'. My wife is half-Punjabi (and almost a Delhiite, having spent most of her post-school life here)and one of my female relatives (bong) married a Kashmiri pandit settled in Delhi for long (and hence Punjabi-ised)- the scenes were almost like dramatized version of events that transpired in the run-up to the aforementioned weddings. And then again, the same people have on occasions surprised me with their tolerance/'modern' approach. So, I guess, behaviour of that nature is more driven by identity-politics and fear of unknown, rather than 'liberal'/'radical' divide. To sum up, I had a good laugh during those scenes :-)

    While casting is a big strength of this film (liked the fact that they picked a punju to play a bong girl; she did a pretty good job - down to getting the body language of the character-type in question correctly), I also felt that the writing of the movie was the best part, at par with 'Lage raho Munnabhai'. Till u watch 'Munnabhai', no one could convince you that you can film a scene with a drunken goon slurring 'bapu....' without raking up controversy (guess, you mentioned this aspect in your blog on 'Munnabhai').

    I am a little surprised that you haven't made even a passsing refernce to the camaraderie between 'Beeji' and the Vicky's mom - that drinking scene between them was awesome,IMHO.

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  3. Saw this movie on a boring afternoon with almost zero expectations (bolstered a tad by favourable FB reviews) and was very pleasantly surprised. You're so right about Annu Kapoor's performance. The new-comers were top-notch too.

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  4. And yes, the "Lady Gaga" scene had me in splits!

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  5. Logik: I know he was talking about the traits, but I did also think the use of Lady Gaga as an example (alongside male celebs like Pitt, Beckham etc) was a deliberate was of showing Chaddha's goofiness in these matters.

    Sudipta: you have a point - and in general I'm wary about accusing a film of dealing in caricatures in these matters. But the movie did come close to falling apart for me in that mid-section; I felt the change in tone was a little abrupt.

    About not mentioning Beeji's drunkenness ("Chal phen di, ek aur bana de!") and a few other things - I'd originally intended just to write a couple of hundred words about Dr Chaddha and then the post grew out of control and turned into a more general post about the film.

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  6. dr chaddha's quest does have something defying- all- odds heroic about it.....but there was a scene out of place in the cheerful humanism of the film...when a outright campy gay man applies to be a donor....it did'nt feel like an expression of the character's prejudices,but an invitation to laugh at a man because he's gay and still wants to donate sperm.it's an odd note in an otherwise refreshingly un-judgemental film.

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  7. One thing irked me, though. When she spoke of her first marriage, there was, what seemed to me, like a deliberate mention of the fact that the marriage wasn't consummated. Even their post marriage scene suggests that while they might have made out before, they're only doing it for the first time that night.

    Is it still important for the Hindi movie heroine to remain virgin until marriage?

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  8. Well, it's okay to be little confused about Lady Gaga's gender... I do not blame Dr. Chaddha at all. Till last year I think the 'internets' were all buzzing about Gaga's gender... So there... :)

    See it yourself... :P https://www.google.co.in/search?&q=lady+gaga+gender

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  9. the best line from the movie for me was when someone in the background looks at Vicky's dog and says "YEH LABRADOG HAI"

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  10. It was a good experience to read the articles and contents on this site. http://www.gujaratonnet.com

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  11. I thought that Ayushman played his part really well....He was funny, and was probably helped by the fact that he is/was a VJ and hence being spontaneously funny is something that is there on his resume.....Yami Gautam is damn cute and was good in the movie....

    When I saw Dr. Chhadha , I felt , "Where has this guy been all this while?" ....Annu Kapoor is a major talent, who definitely deserves more important roles in the future .....

    The movie was really funny , which is pretty obvious....Having said that, I think the movie fell apart a little bit in second half....I thought that Ashima who can't become a mother herself would understand the joy her husband was bringing to children-less couples all over; instead she feels bad for not being able to assign any part of the responsibility of not being able to conceive on Vicky.....The logic given for her resenting Vicky is a bit too twisted for me....Maybe her being motherless complicated the whole story unnecessarily when the movie could have done with being a light weight comedy it is ( and satire as well )

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  12. Jai,

    returning to your blog after some time. Thoroughly enjoyed this post. Have read so many good things about Vicky Donor that it's on my wish list now.

    And Akhil, if I may add, not having seen the film, a woman who's unable to conceive can harbour an irrational envy of those who do.

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  13. Hi Jai
    indeed, Anu Kapoor's performance is worth a post or more. my wife certainly felt that either A) this movie was made for him or B) Anu Kapoor was born for this sssperm, sorry movie.
    enjoyable movie...

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  14. Jai, frequent reader, irregular commenter. :) Saw this movie in Bombay recently, and absolutely *loved* it. Like some of the other commenters, I don't agree that the Bong, Punju scenes were broad caricatures - generalisations, sure, but hey, have a Bong friend whose parents are *exactly* like this, and many, many Punju friends who would recognise themselves in the lovingly-drawn characters. What I liked most was that there was no one who was 'b-a-a-a-d' - flawed, sure, but human, for all that, and deeply affectionate in their relationships. Really nice. And much as I liked the youngsters (definitely have *something*), the best characters were Annu Kapoor, Dolly Ahluwalia and the actress who played Beeji. :)

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  15. what a lovely meditation on liberal hypocrisy and our tangled relationship with modernity and progress.

    what of the putatively modern, well read radiant bride who is the intellectual bengali surrogate and her refusal to fess up to irrational, pre-modern bias against artificial insemination? and what of the dad who calls her out on her hypocrisy?

    and what of the nominally boneheaded and lascivious punjabi boy telling his mom, "it's only science" and his mom like, "rehne de arts aur science!"

    as a thematic which normalizes the societally egregious, the movie works excellently, adorably even though somewhat naively invoking the modern scientific method as a panacea to social repression.

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