By B. H. Harsh Apr. 20, 2022
Released a decade ago Vicky Donor is probably a landmark film in the most understated sense possible. More than headline acts or box-office breaking numbers it ushered in a language to help us as a society to deal with taboo.
I remember realising the true power of comedy sometime back in the early 2010s when I watched an Aditi Mittal stand-up video where the fiery comedian repeatedly talked about ‘sanitary pads’ – normalising it in way that helped the rid the term of its stigma. Comedy is one of the fewer mediums that allows us to openly address taboos and vulnerabilities that spawn from them. But, back in the early 2010s few mainstream filmmakers had used comedy to talk about the forbidden. Instead the genre was the subject of trite, slice-of-life pieces that since perhaps Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron in the 80s had said nothing of social relevance. 10 years after it released, Shoojit Sircar’s Vicky Donor, continues to not just resonate as a disarming comedy, but is perhaps iconic for the many socio-political doors it helped open Indian cinema in general.
Comedy is one of the fewer mediums that allows us to openly address taboos and vulnerabilities that spawn from them.
Conservative societies like ours raise us to talk about sex in hushed whispers, as if its taboo or abnormal. The irony of our population aside desire is looked down upon, at least in the public sphere. Men get away with it to an extent, but for women to exhibit desire, let alone desperation is a strict no. Like most adolescents, I discovered porn in my mid-teens by accident because there was no one to guide me through this most innocent journeys of discovery (I remember feeling betrayed even by my best friend who had already learned to self-gratify, but never told me). In a space where even the casual act of fornication is obscured by social mores, you can understand academically inept Indians feel at talk about sperms, eggs and pregnancies. We seem to do a lot of it, but understand so little about it.
Vicky Donor continues to not just resonate as a disarming comedy, but is iconic for the many socio-political doors it helped open in Indian cinema.
Vicky Donor injected (pun unintended) a new zesty, spiky quality to the mainstream comedy film. Not only was the subject taboo, but it also had many things that the film casually unwrapped and helped a witless audience warm up to. Doctor Chaddha’s (Annu Kapoor) dialogue used sperms as a metaphor for life, universalising the remote, the stigmatised. Dr. Chaddha wiggles his fingers whenever he talks about sperms and Vicky is understandably irritated by the constant gesticulation and verbal plugs. However, as they reconcile by the end, we see Vicky hug Chaddha who possibly can’t think of his fellow homosapiens in any other way. Vicky finally gets it!
Somehow, it seemed timely for an industry that had begun to undergo a shift it wasn’t prepared for. We are talking of 2012, a time when Anees Bazmee was at the top of his game, Rohit Shetty’s extravagant comedies were ruling the roost and the so-called stars of the industry had started to come unstuck at the box-office. We were not used to comedies being socially conscious or topical, despite an occasional satire like Peepli Live or Phas Gaya Re Obama. Our idea of bawdy humour was limited to Indra Kumar comedies like Masti or Priyadarshan’s brand of a comedy-of-errors that though memorable seldom attempted to say anything in a social context.
Somehow, it seemed timely for an industry that had begun to undergo a shift it wasn’t prepared for.
It has always been hard to make cinema about social subjects in this country, which meant that most ideas were pulled at the ideation stage itself. How would you even articulate a problem that nobody wanted to speak about. The universal appeal of comedy or satire, stared us in the face but only Vicky Donor found the language to use it. From its streak of audacious Punjabi wokeness, to headstrong liberal women, the film’s template ushered in an era of comedy that educated without being tardy or silly. You could laugh at the characters but not because they fleshed out as caricatures.
Vicky Donor also stood out because of what it reflected. Vicky’s mother Dolly (Dolly Ahluwalia) desists Ashima’s (Yami Gautam) inability to become a biological mother. Ashima struggles with the concept of adoption because biological lineage has been fed into our lives, as a system to live by. It’s a conversation most Indian households still struggle to bring to the drawing room table. Bloodlines and family trees are such obsessions that there is little to room to adopt out of humanity or donate out of kindness. No sperm must go to waste.
Vicky Donor is perhaps about us, people who are unlearning every day to embrace a new social view.
Watching the sequence where Vicky and Ashima’s parents dismissively talk about each other’s cultural baggage is a disconcerting but ultimately assuring reminder that we continue to live beside each other in this country despite our prejudices. We judge, and objectify on a daily basis, but there is perhaps also this natural urge to abandon ourselves to the alien, be the donor to someone’s void, or seek one in the world. I remember thinking of this scene when many of my colleagues (working in major corporate set-ups, mind you) would consistently be shocked to learn that I was from Andhra Pradesh. “But how come you speak Hindi so well? I always thought you were from UP or Bihar or something”. Vicky Donor is perhaps about us, people who are unlearning every day to embrace a new social view. To which effect, the film has probably only become more relevant with time.