21 April 2012
Film Review: Vicky Donor
Vicky Donor is that rare thing: a laugh-out-loud Hindi movie that has both irreverence and soul. Screenwriter Juhi Chaturvedi and director Shoojit Sircar have taken a hush-hush subject that most people would tiptoe around, and placed it bang at the centre of a film that’s both hilariously funny and wonderfully honest – without ever feeling sleazy.
The plot is as follows. Vicky Arora, 25, lives with his widowed mother Dolly and his grandmother Biji in a small house in the very middle class neighbourhood of Lajpat Nagar IV. He seems like a nice boy, but he doesn’t have a job and isn’t trying terribly hard to look for one either. He seems more-or-less content to spend his days mall-hopping and playing cricket in the park with his buddies, while effectively living off his mother’s earnings from the beauty parlour she runs downstairs. Enter Dr Baldev Chadda, who runs a fertility treatment clinic and sperm bank in Daryaganj, and is always on the lookout for sperm donors who can come to the aid of his stressed-out, “insecured and highly ambitious” clients. Chadda spies Vicky when he’s in the process of fobbing off his pet white Spitz on someone (because it failed to bark at a thief), and decides at first sight that this is the man to solve his current crisis of ‘quality sperm’. “Shakal dekh ke bande ka sperm pehchaan jaata hoon,” as he says to the bewildered Vicky. So begins Chadda’s long and hilarious campaign to convince the reluctant Vicky that donating sperm is neither funny nor obscene, but simply a natural thing that he can do – and earn good money doing.
Chaturvedi’s hilarious dialogue for Dr Chadda is absolutely spot-on, from assuring Vicky that sperm donation “is an ancient science” to telling him that he’ll be doing a social service. But it’s the brilliant Annu Kapoor who breathes life into this amalgam of bizarre Aryan race purity theories and sheer dogged business sense, turning him into a character who’s as familiar as he is memorable. Ayushmann Khurana, a television star and ex-IPL anchor making his filmic debut here, is a complete natural as Vicky, combining the requisite Dilli macho bluster with an artless vulnerability that has thankfully little drama about it.
In fact, Vicky Donor steers clear of high drama for most of its running time. The relationship between Vicky’s rum-swigging mother (the superb Dolly Ahluwalia) and eccentric old grandmother (Kamlesh Gill), for example, brings to life a daughter-in-law–mother-in-law dynamic that’s often hilarious while staying refreshingly honest: “Hangover jitta banda kucch bhi keh jaanda hai (When one has a hangover, one can say anything at all),” says a drunkenly apologetic Beeji in advance for being crabby in the morning.
Even Vicky’s persistent wooing of pretty bank employee Ashima (debutante Yami Gautam) stays light and frothy almost all the way through, even with the romance culminating in the inevitable over-the-top Bengali-Punjabi family face-off. The caricatures that Vicky’s mother and Ashima’s father (veteran theatre actor Jayanta Das) respectively draw of the ‘other’ community are broad and predictable – loud, uncultured Punjabis who flaunt their money, versus miserly monkey-cap-wearing Bengalis who don’t know how to have a good time – but the sharply-scripted wedding negotiation scene seems entirely believable. And by the time you’ve gotten to the end of their happily tipsy wedding, you’re really not likely to complain.
The post-interval section is somewhat less fun, mostly because the filmmakers up their drama quotient as they propel us towards a fuzzy feelgood climax. But the emotional twist in the tale – which I’m not going to give away here (other than to tell you that Chaturvedi wanted to call her film Phool Khilein Hain Gulshan Gulshan) – does give everyone a chance to display their acting chops. Gautam turns a tad too screechy (and then perhaps a little too maudlin), but Khurrana acquits himself marvelously, as do Ahluwalia and Gill.
It’s also worth mentioning that Vicky Donor is a Delhi film, though like with everything else about it, it wears its city-ness lightly. It doesn’t make too big a deal of its locations – the Daryaganj clinic with its slightly dodgy associations, the Lajpat Nagar terrace across which Beeji quarrels incessantly with the bitchy neighbour ‘Pepsi Aunty’, or Dr. Chadda’s terrace with its too-good-to-be-true view of the Jama Masjid – but each of them is nicely captured. And the dialogue is a pitch-perfect rendition of Dilli-Punjabi-speak, studded with English words in exactly the right places: “Gents ko samjhein aisi ladies bhagwan ne banai kitthe hai? (Where has God made the sorts of ladies who will understand gents?)”
Vicky Donor shares with last week’s Bittoo Boss a likeable debutante hero, a script that’s almost wholly in Punjabi and a desire to address a serious topic with a light and frothy touch. Unlike Bittoo Boss, though, Shoojit Sircar’s second directorial outing (after 2005’s watchable Kashmir-shot romance Yahaan, in which Minissha Lamba made her suitably coy debut) the emotional-moral core of Vicky Donor never feels like a politically correct add-on. Sure, it doesn’t cling very hard to the possibility that there might actually be people who don’t need children to feel ‘complete’, and neither does it want to argue too aggressively against the desire for biological children rather than adopted ones – but then every film must pick its battles. Vicky Donor has picked one, and fights it most disarmingly.
Published in Firstpost.