The last word on motherhood and parenthood in Mimi comes not from the Indian heroine or even from her relatives and friends, it comes from a white American woman. In another film with a script that had been somewhat thought through, it could perhaps have been concluded that the decision to give the final say on this pivotal theme to a foreigner from the race that once colonised India was a result of the same colonial hangover that causes Indians to give more weight to conversations, awards and recognition from the West than from India, the rest of Asia or Africa. However, to even offer that critique of Mimi would be a compliment.
Writer-director Laxman Utekar's new Hindi film is a muddled take on motherhood with clarity only on its conservative mission to condemn abortion.
Kriti Sanon plays Mimi Mansingh Rathore, a stage dancer in Bikaner who dreams of Bollywood career. The ticket to tinseltown is expensive though. Realising that she needs a sizeable bank balance even to shoot a portfolio, Mimi agrees to be a surrogate mother for Summer (Evelyn Edwards) and John (Aidan Whytock), an American couple shopping in India for a healthy young woman to bear their child for them.
Kriti Sanon in a still from Mimi.
When Mimi is at an advanced stage of her pregnancy, Summer and John no longer want the child and ask her to abort the foetus. The path Mimi takes and the local community's response to her choices are the crux of the film.
Utekar, who has directed both Marathi and Hindi cinema, made his Hindi debut with Luka Chuppi starring Kriti Sanon with Kartik Aaryan in 2019. That film was about a couple who want to live together without marriage. It was verbose and sermonic, but at least it tried to take a progressive stand. Mimi is an attempt to roll Indian society back by decades, by denouncing a woman's right to choose an abortion enshrined in the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act, 1971.
Contrary to the false impression created by India's English news media that Muslim and Christian conservatives alone are anti-choice, the truth is that religionists across communities take this stand. The saving grace for India so far has been that such people have not run nationwide campaigns to scrap the law, physically attack clinics, and so on unlike what we read of anti-abortionists in the US. In this scenario, Hindi cinema has been chary of the subject. For instance, Sultan (2016) starring Salman Khan and Anushka Sharma chose to pretend that the option does not exist for a woman in an episode where in real life it would, at the very least, have come up for discussion. In Seema Pahwa's recently released Ramprasad Ki Tehrvi, a character played by Konkona Sensharma apologises to her loving husband in the end for her many transgressions in their marriage " it cleverly avoids specifying which particular transgressions she is apologising for, thus leaving it open to the viewer to interpret whether or not she is saying sorry for once having undergone an abortion.
Mimi minces no words, giving the central character a long monologue on what she considers wrong with terminating a pregnancy.
Anyone who justifies this scene by arguing that women who hold such views do exist in the real world, should tell us why the stories of the millions who disagree with her and choose differently from her are not worthy of being told by Bollywood.
Apart from this one issue, Mimi takes up a string of others though sans the same lucidity, and ends up being a shallow affair that tries to cover too much without the political maturity or writing skills to deal with any of it effectively: children with disabilities, pre-natal diagnostic techniques that detect foetal abnormalities, colourism and racism in India, parenthood minus marriage, pre-marital sex, Hindu-Muslim relations, suicide and more.
Surrogacy itself is a complex theme involving so many intricate ethical questions that divide even liberals, but Utekar and his co-writer Rohan Shankar fail to examine it comprehensively. Meghna Gulzar's Filhaal (2002), in which Tabu played a surrogate mother, displayed limited knowledge about the subject, but Mimi is worse.
This film's inadequacies are especially stark in a month in which Malayalam cinema has given us Jude Anthany Joseph's Sara's and Don Palathara's Santhoshathinte Onnam Rahasyam, both delving into reproductive rights in detail, with the former openly batting for a woman's bodily autonomy.
Mimi's problems go beyond its under-developed themes. The film is beset with loose threads that no one bothered to tie up. A scene in which a Hindu man (Pankaj Tripathi) pretends to be Muslim in a Muslim household is amusing, but a scene in which a Hindu family is horrified at the thought that their daughter married a Muslim fails miserably. Reason: Mimi's Muslim friend (Sai Tamhankar) is featured in the latter scene and displays no reaction, no anger, no disgust whatsoever at the bigoted Islamophobic attitude openly expressed in her presence, which is inconsistent with her portrayal until then as a feisty individual unafraid to express her views. The unfinished writing of this scene is unfortunate because it had the potential for some good black comedy with the way it started out by underlining the dilemma of ultra-conservative religious fanatics when faced with this question: is it worse that their unmarried daughter is pregnant or that their daughter is married to a Muslim?
Loose writing leads to so much incompleteness in Mimi that dwelling on each half-baked idea in the script would require a review of more pages than this film deserves. Among other things, Mimi is fuzzy about the MTP Act's provisions, *>Minor spoilers in this paragraph* it glosses over the fact that the leading lady was willing to give the child away when she thought it might not be healthy, more than one character attacks Summer but not her husband for abandoning their surrogate, a dramatic turnaround in Mimi's parents' attitude to her pregnancy is too quick to be convincing, and there is no explanation for why Mimi gave up her Bollywood dreams although that move is used to paint her as the conventional all-sacrificing Maaaaaaa. *>Spoiler alert ends*
The first half of Mimi at least has some humour to offer, mostly revolving around the cabbie Bhanu Pratap Pandey (Tripathi), but once Mimi is left to her own devices, even that element in the film goes missing. In addition to its politics, faulty pacing and declining energy drag Mimi downhill from then on.
Even the subtitles are mixed up. For one, why has "mere Ramji" in an early dialogue been translated to "my Romeo"?
None of this is as cringeworthy though as the poorly matched dubbing for the child artiste Jacob Smith in the second half of Mimi. It's so bad that it's embarrassing.
Kriti Sanon as Mimi is proof of the insufficient quality roles available for women actors in Bollywood. She has truckloads of charisma but since her Hindi debut in Heropanti, (2014) has starred in film after lukewarm film that does not do justice to her evident talent and screen presence. Even she is not as criminally wasted in Mimi as the lovely Tamhankar playing the protagonist's friend and stage partner.
Tripathi as Bhanu Pratap Pandey is hugely entertaining, but he has a signature now, making it impossible to forget that it is he who is playing this character.
If it had been better written and directed, Mimi might have been considered dangerous anti-women propaganda. To describe it thus would be a compliment though to the director's storytelling abilities. Sara's has the substance to further the pro-choice debate. Mimi is too insubstantial to be debated.
Rating: 1.5 (out of 5 stars)
Mimi is now streaming on Netflix