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Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Mohanlal’s Dasharatham is a way better drama on surrogacy than Kriti Sanon-starrer Mimi

Mohanlal's Dasharatham was made in 1989 when surrogacy had no legal backing in India. Even then, it remains a far more compelling drama than Mimi as it speaks of a woman's dilemma.

Written by Manoj Kumar R | Bengaluru |
Updated: August 4, 2021 8:20:25 am
Mohanlal's Dasharatham released in 1989.

The first thought that came to my mind while watching Mimi was how the film’s director lacked courage to push the envelope. As the film progressed, I also realised that this film’s emotional core was stunted, where a woman’s journey is shown from being a child-bearing surrogate to a selfless mother who gives up on her dreams. The film tries to reinforce old world beliefs while demonising individuality. Pregnancy is a very personal subject. And one-size-fits-all approach to deal with such a deeply personal topic and moralizing it is nothing but a futile exercise in sentimentality.

The film, which was supposed to reflect on the complexities of commercial surrogacy leapfrogs to the domain of pro-life vs pro-choice and later drops its two cents on the statistics of orphans worldwide. The narrative keeps bouncing from one subject to another without any impact, like a weightless object floating in zero gravity.

The mere fact that writer-director Laxman Utekar had to resort to manipulative tricks to force the audience to feel the suffering of Mimi is a sign that he lacked a deep understanding of the issue and empathy for those who have suffered the same fate as her (played by Kriti Sanon).

Mimi film Kriti Sanon Mimi is streaming on Netflix and Jio Cinema.

Mimi opens with a couple from America arriving in India in search of a surrogate mother. The scene reminded me of an old Malayalam movie Dasharatham, which explored the complexities of surrogacy, way before it became a billion-dollar industry in India. Dasharatham may have been made in 1989, but it is miles ahead of Mimi in terms of artistic merits.

Directed by Sibi Malayil from the script of renowned scenarist A. K. Lohithadas, the film follows the impulsive choices of a misfit named Rajiv Menon, skillfully played by Mohanlal. Before we see Rajiv, we get an impression of a man who is unruly and extremely self-indulgent. The filmmakers repeatedly re-emphasise this fact through various scenarios. So we know he’s unpredictable, and he’s going to make some pretty unconventional choices that are going to shock us.

The first time we meet Rajiv Menon, he rams his jeep into a parked car as he’s heavily drunk. He’s reckless. When the car owner confronts him, he flaunts his wealth to get away. He has no regrets. He desperately tries to find someone to keep him company in the bar to no avail. He’s a loner. After getting drunk to the point where he can’t feel his face, he again gets behind the wheels. He’s prone to making only wrong decisions.

We have enough information to understand, Rajiv Menon is a rich man with a serious drinking problem. He is reckless, arrogant, impulsive and has deep emotional problems that are rooted in his unhappy childhood. This film is a case study for how to effectively establish the traits of a character and make the audience develop empathy for them without being manipulative.

Rajiv Menon is 32 and unmarried. The short duration he spent with his friend Scariah’s (Nedumudi Venu) children evokes a desire in him to be a father. But, he doesn’t want to get married. He looks at the possibility of adopting Scariah’s son only to be turned away. A doctor friend advises him to rent a womb, with a caveat — in a conservative place like India, the man says, it is nearly impossible to find a woman who would be willing to do this. Our hero, who thinks he can solve any problem with money, immediately declares that he will fly to the US or the UK to find a woman, who would be willing to act as a surrogate for his child, no matter how much it costs. Rajiv, or the filmmakers, would have scarcely imagined India in future would become the world’s largest provider of rent-a-womb services to well-heeled foreigners.

Dasharatham is set in the late 1980s when the practice of surrogacy had no legal backing. And writer Lohithadas expertly worked the legal obstacle into the script, adding to the developing drama.

Annie (Rekha) agrees to be a surrogate for Rajiv as she needs money for a critical surgery of her husband Chandradas (Murali). Annie despises everything about the deal but has hardly any choice. She signs a contract and all cards are on the table. There’s no room for surprises.

But, Annie’s perception about the whole matter changes when she finally gives birth to the baby. So much so that she’s also ready to separate from her husband if that’s what it takes to keep her baby. She becomes completely unreasonable, and she doesn’t give two hoots about what’s right and wrong. The heart wants what it wants, right?

Dasharatham, however, for the most part, remains playful despite the nature of the heavy subject and its implications. Director Sibi and actors beautifully capture the underlying humour of Lohithadas.

Sample this: the first time we see Annie, she is telling her husband about the surrogacy deal. She adds, from all the stories she heard about Rajiv, she got an impression that he is a clown. That line cracked me up. And so does Rajiv’s numerous actions that lack a certain maturity.

You feel Rajiv’s pain, at the same time you empathise with Annie’s emotional dilemma. That impasse really draws you in as you see the various elements of the conflict develop into a moving drama. While we have prior knowledge of Rajiv’s personality, through the course of the conflict, we learn more about Annie. From seeking the help of police, and going against her husband’s wishes and Rajiv’s threats, she retains her vulnerability.

The film doesn’t force you to take sides. You find yourself in a situation similar to Annie, when she is forced to choose between her husband and son. You sympathise with every character and when the movie ends, you don’t feel bitter towards anyone.

And that’s something Laxman Utekar could incorporate into his future work.

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