I have recently become obsessed with an intriguing phenomenon known as 'twin films'. This refers to films released at similar times and with suspiciously similar plots, despite being produced separately. The most famous example of this is 1998's 'Deep Impact' and 'Armageddon'. However, more recent examples include 'Portrait of a Lady on Fire' and 'Ammonite' (two women from different classes in the 19th century fall in love in a remote area on the English Channel coast), 'Never Rarely Sometimes Always' and 'Unpregnant' (an American teenager and her best friend cross state lines to obtain an abortion without her parents' consent), and, my personal favourite, 'Sound of Metal' and 'Mogul Mowgli' (a musician experiences a culture shock while suffering from a degenerating physical condition, played by the British actor Riz Ahmed).
This occurs because the best way to find out what a society is discussing, contemplating, concerned about, engaged with, or scared of, is to watch their movies. We do not live in a vacuum: we consume the same media, are exposed to the same ideas, and experience the same cultural events. Consequently, it can't be too much of a surprise when two people think the same way.
'Mimi', the Hindi-language comedy drama which arrived on Netflix at the end of July, follows Mimi, a young woman who agrees to be a surrogate mother for an American couple, but complications arise when it appears that their child will likely be born with Down's syndrome. It is a remake of the Marathi language Indian drama 'Mala Aai Vhhaychy!', and shares similarities with the recently released American indie drama 'The Surrogate' (see BioNews 1107), where a young woman agrees to be a surrogate mother for her two best friends, but complications arise when it appears that their child will likely be born with Down's syndrome. Snap!
That said 'Mimi' and 'The Surrogate', artistically and philosophically, could not be more different. Discussions of now-contentious issues, especially those concerning the female body such as sex, abortion, and fertility, have become increasingly reserved for small-budget, 'brave', indie projects such as 'Saint Frances' and the aforementioned 'Never Rarely Sometimes Always'. The question is: how does a big-budget, studio-produced, all-star-casted blockbuster deal with these issues?
From a positive perspective, 'Mimi' is an undeniably entertaining film, even enough to justify its not-insubstantial run time. Kriti Sanon, who plays the eponymous Mimi, is perhaps the perfect leading character – exuberant, witty, emotional, and astonishingly beautiful. She pairs nicely with Pankaj Tripathi, the taxi driver who recruits Mimi as the surrogate, who, while his presence for at least the final sixty percent of the movie makes no sense, provides some nice comic moments. Both nicely complement the fantastic music, Mimi's wonderfully quirky family, and its unashamed soap-opera-ness – where the highs are deliriously high, and the lows are devastatingly low.
Unsurprisingly, the central issue with 'Mimi' is that it lacks any real nuance while dealing with topics that demand it. The film is overtly anti-abortion which, while not necessarily a problem in itself, removes any emotional conflict which a potential child with Down's syndrome would provide (after the American couple demand Mimi abort their child, she tells a doctor 'I believe that the child inside me is alive. It grows, it breathes, it eats, it moves. I think it can hear us as well', just in case we had any doubt whatsoever about where the film's messages lie). And just as the audience is coming to terms with the characters' somewhat lackadaisical approach to raising a child with Down's syndrome – surprise! – the child doesn't have Down's syndrome. Phew, wouldn't have wanted to deal with that!
I was holding out hope that 'Mimi' would have something more profound to it than obvious, children's book sentiment, simply because the premise is so ripe for it. While both pro-choice and pro-life individuals may deny this, the decision around whether to raise a child with Down's syndrome is heart-wrenchingly difficult, hence the emotional turmoil which, if properly conducted, could result in an engaging, intelligent movie. 'Mimi', however, somehow believes that, despite its wicked problems and existential dilemmas, there is always a singular path to be taken. Consequently, while the film has humour and drama and good performances, it feels intrinsically vapid and unempathetic.
That said, what 'Mimi' does represent is the increasing globalisation of fertility treatments and family planning, and the fact that two films have been released which, while grounded in different places and distinct perspectives, consider the same problem is both fascinating and encouraging. Even though nuanced discussions of family planning have been suspiciously absent from big-budget studio production comedies, from the charming 'Juno' ('Your baby has fingernails!' 'Fingernails?') to the dreadful 'Knocked Up', I am optimistic that, culturally, we are moving in the right direction. All that is needed is for someone to do it properly.