Social prejudices are rarely broken by rational explanations: Vicky Donor makes a brave attempt! Apr 25, 2012

Let me tell you at the outset that I am biased here. Vicky Donor has been written by Juhi Chaturvedi, first cousin to my closest friend Nupur. Juhi was a role model for us when we were in senior school in Lucknow. She was studying art and everything she did was cool; her photography and her dark room, her paintings fascinated us tremendously. She was driven, even then. Later, Juhi and me bonded over the fact that our baby girls are about five weeks apart in age and I would hear stories of her struggles with managing motherhood and two careers, her advertising one and her scriptwriting one- a superwoman, no doubt!

Last night, as I watched Vicky Donor, her first script to make it to the silver screen, I could only think about the toil it must have taken to make it this far-the sacrifice, the hard work, the points of conflict and low self confidence she must have been through to finally be able to bask in the warm light of success. Way to go, Juhi!

Coming back to to the film, it deals with the subject of sperm donation. In the course of the film, the script moves the subject from a taboo, unspeakable issue to Vicky’s family appreciating what he has done for humanity, the gift he has given childless couples, etc. The film is well-researched and intends to get people thinking about a subject rarely on anyone’s horizon; but I doubt social prejudices are broken so easily.

In India, and in other conservative societies, issues related to sex and fertility are sensitive subjects. The cycle of life dictates that women are meant to bear children. The fertility of men is rarely questioned, even though low sperm count is becoming common thanks to the stresses of modern, urban life, the onset of lifestyle diseases, higher incidence of cancer among younger people, etc. Add to that the growing number of dysfunctional marriages. Yet, couples dream of having children; not always because they genuinely love kids and want their own, but because of social pressures to show the world theirs is a normal, ‘complete’ family.

Another reason why sperm donation is particularly repulsive to Indians is because in ayurveda (first seen in writings around 600BC), conservation of semen (or virya) is considered essential to maintain masculine strength and health. The loss of the fluid is considered debilitating and believed to drain away well-being and wastage of semen is considered a reason for many sexual malfunctions, including impotence. With this baggage, it would take a lot for a nation that is reluctant to donate blood fearing loss of strength, to be all right with donating semen!

It’s a complex issue, and its heartening that the medical community thinks attitudes have changed in the past few years. Men in childless marriages are slowly coming forward to accept donated sperm. Experts, however, say that it is not donated sperm but intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) or in-vitro fertilization, in which a single sperm is injected directly into one egg, that is the way forward for men with low sperm counts to father children. There is, I hear, an even greater demand for donor eggs, which is an even more loaded issue. How will society accept a woman donating her eggs to help childless couples? It could go either way. Personally, I think women being perceived as givers of life, it should be an easier pill to swallow, but its controversial, I agree.

All in all, kudos to Juhi and Shoojit (and John) for tackling a tough subject. Amid the laughs and the songs (which I thought were rather redundant and actually made an otherwise pacy film lose its momentum), it would be worth it if the film makes even a tiny chink in the attitudes of Indians and towards taboo subjects!

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