Monday, April 23, 2012

Vicky Donor: An Entertaining Sperm...

It’s official! According to the Bollywood media, John Abraham’s first home production is an unqualified success! Vicky Donor, the story of a sperm donor in love, is a solid middlebrow entertainer and well worth a watch, even if you (like me) don’t usually go for middlebrow films. And I don’t think it’s taking anything away from the Vicky Donor team to say that a large part of the appeal of the film is its matter-of-fact treatment of some, er, sticky issues because, frankly, compared to the hysterical news coverage of Poonam “I’ll Strip For Spare Change” Pandey, Sunny “I’m Not Giving Up My Career in Adult Films” Leone, and the rest of the “bold scene” crew, it’s refreshing to see a film treat sex like just another part of life instead of like a nuclear weapon.

Vicky Donor is the story of Vicky Arora (Ayushmann Khurrana), an ordinary Delhi boy who just happens to catch the attention of Dr. Baldev Chaddha (the extremely entertaining Annu Kapoor). Dr. Chaddha, you see, is looking for sperm donors for his fertility clinic. As he explains, modern life has led to an increase in stress and, consequently, a decrease in sperm - and Dr. Chaddha is very concerned about sperm.* The reasonably good-looking, reasonably athletic Vicky, who has no girlfriend, no job, and no worries beyond keeping his mother off his back, is the perfect candidate for donation. Vicky’s stress-free sperm are exactly what Dr. Chaddha needs to keep his clinic from going under. Vicky is initially concerned about the propriety of the work but eventually he is won over by the offer of a paycheck and gets down to business. The film charts Vicky’s growth into a responsible adult and and his romantic misadventures with lovely Bengali girl Ashima Roy (the non-Bengali Yami Gautam, who has apparently starred opposite Golden Star Ganesh in a film I need to watch because it’s Golden Star Ganesh).

Ayushmann Khurrana does a fine job as Vicky, though he comes across as a bit too high-strung for an allegedly “low-stress” guy. Vicky is kind of dick but he’s not deliberately malicious. He makes his mother take care of him like a prince but he’ll help out in her beauty parlor and he dotes on his grandmother. He engages in some casual slut-shaming with his next door neighbor but only to the extent that the culture at large slut-shames. And, in typical 21st century spoiled young adult fashion, he’s unemployed because he doesn’t just want “a job,” he wants a career. Vicky isn’t a bad guy, just kind of a dick.

As Dr. Chaddha, Annu Kapoor is the lynchpin of this film. Without him, it wouldn’t have worked. Single-minded in his pursuit of sperm, Dr. Chaddha could have easily slipped into Anupam Kher gay comedy-uncle territory but, to his credit, Annu Kapoor makes Dr. Chaddha a person, not a caricature. Chaddha himself is kind of an odd duck - a childless, unmarried man who runs a fertility clinic - but he has a big heart and a quick wit and gave a huge jolt of life to every scene he was in. I hope this film does for Annu-sir what Kahaani did for Saswata Chatterjee.

Dolly Ahluwalia, as Vicky’s mother, and Kamlesh Gill, as Vicky’s paternal grandmother, were simply delightful. Not only was it refreshing to see two women of mature age get copious amounts of screentime but it was refreshing to see that their lives had scope beyond Vicky. My favorite scenes in the film were Dolly and her mother-in-law enjoying a peg of whiskey together in the evening. Who would have expected that a film about a sperm donor would also be the most Bechdel Test-friendly film I have seen all year, Indian or otherwise.

And, now we get to the heroine - Yami Gautam. She was adequate in the role of Ashima. Though most of the characters are fairly well sketched and acted, the romance never quite gelled for me. It’s not Yami’s fault entirely, though a more charismatic actress might have been able to paper over some of the cracks in the story.

The romance plotline was the one part of the film that fell victim to filmi-itis, which is where an otherwise “realistic” film adds in some more traditionally filmi elements for reasons best known to the producers. In an masala film, having the hero pester/stalk the heroine until she agrees to date him would be standard operating practice but in real life, it’s cause for a restraining order. Their romance seemed forced by script device and was absolutely the least interesting element of the film.**

Aside from playing the love interest, Ashima’s Bengali roots were the source of a lot of jokes during the second half of the film. I’m not sure how well these went over with actual Bengalis but the Hindi-speaking crowd I saw the film with were plenty amused at jokes about fish and “bachelor women” who can’t find (i.e. don’t want) husbands. Though, to be fair, for every fish joke was one about Punjabis enjoying a peg of whiskey, which got even bigger laughs from the crowd, so who can say.

All in all, aside from a few quibbles, there is a lot to like about Vicky Donor. The film has a lot of laughs, a lot of heart, and a refreshingly practical attitude towards sex and reproduction. The editing is snappy, the acting is mostly excellent, and the dialogues are plenty witty. Plus, the music is fantastic. John Abraham and his team deserve huge kudos for their effort and I hope we haven’t seen the last of Ayushmann Khurrana, who demonstrated more talent in one film than Neil Nitin Mukesh has in ten... combined.

So, should you go? As long as you are mature enough to understand the mechanics of sperm donation, absolutely! To paraphrase Dr. Chaddha, it’s an entertaining sperm.

* There is a joke about this being the real Jism 2 buried in here somewhere but somebody “bolder” than me will have to make it. Heh.
** Slightly spoilery but that independent, career-minded Ashima would agree to marry a man without knowing how he earns an income seemed a bit too much of a stretch. Even a line or two about how she thinks he’s in the black market or something would have helped with that.

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