If you follow surrogacy related news, you’ve likely encountered a number of recent headlines about “Mimi,” a 2021 Indian comedy-drama now streaming on Netflix.
The film stars Kriti Sanon, and it chronicles the story of Mimi, a young aspiring actress, who turns to commercial surrogacy as a way to generate the income necessary to pursue her dream of becoming a Bollywood star. Here’s what you should know about it:
Overall, the acting and cinematography are nothing to write home about. The script is not particularly well-written, a number of the numerous attempts at comedy fall painfully flat, and the cheese factor is difficult to overlook, even for the most generous critic. But this is hardly noteworthy for a Netflix feature film, and it’s not what interests us at the CBC.
What we really wanted to know about the film is this: What does it invite the viewer to think about surrogacy? What message does it communicate? And, for good or ill, is it effective in its aim?
The movie begins with John and Summer, an infertile American couple who have traveled to Rajasthan in search of a “perfect surrogate” to carry their child. They reject the offers from one of the surrogacy agencies they visited, despite the manager promising them “brand new stock” and “young, beautiful new women” from which to choose.
The women at that factory are visibly impoverished and unhealthy, reducing their value as potential surrogates in Summer’s mind. So she and John set off to find their own surrogate- one whose mere appearance doesn’t plague their consciences or make them fear for the viability of a full term pregnancy.
And with the help of their opportunistic taxi driver, they do just that when they encounter Mimi, an aspiring and beautiful young actress whose personal dream of stardom lies somewhere on the other side of her ability to raise enough money to finance it. Mimi is healthy and strong. According to Summer, she has “the perfect body” for gestating a baby.
At first Mimi rejects the proposition as absurd. She’s not married, and unwed pregnancy in her culture would bring devastating shame to her family. But the offer of 20 lakh rupees ($28k US) proves too tempting to resist, and after a few short IVF cycles, she becomes pregnant with the rich American couples’ baby. Mimi convinces her parents she has an acting contract in a different city, and she moves out of town for nine months to conceal her pregnancy from them. She’s got money in her pocket to finance her dreams. The Americans are thrilled at the prospect of completing their family. Everything is going perfectly. Until….
Everything is going perfectly until a test reveals the couples’ unborn child has Down Syndrome. Horrified by this news, Summer wails, “We wanted a perfect surrogate so we could have a perfect baby, not a disabled one!” The couple demands that Mimi abort the baby, and they abandon her and return home without any further contact, funding, or direction.
Mimi chooses to carry the child to term and gives birth to a healthy little boy, surprised to discover the initial Down Syndrome diagnosis was inaccurate. There is nothing wrong with him at all. The rest of the film is spent following Mimi’s journey into the role of unplanned, unwed motherhood. Though initially furious and confused, her community eventually comes together to embrace her and the baby.
As the little boy grows, the viewers are invited to reflect on his own minor identity crises. His white skin sets him apart as markedly different, and he has to work to figure out who he is and where he belongs in the world.
Ultimately, the biological parents see Mimi and the little boy on TV, discover that he doesn’t have Down Syndrome after all, and fight to take custody of him once they realize he’s healthy. In the end, they realize that Mimi is the one who should really be his mother, they drop the case, and everyone lives happily ever after.
Despite the aforementioned low budget quality of the film, mediocre acting, and poorly written script, there are a number of things “Mimi” gets surprisingly right, and that’s no small thing in today’s heavily saturated newsfeed of romanticized surrogacy narratives.
- The movie is not shy or unclear about the exploitative nature of so many surrogacy agreements. It is obvious from the get-go that every single surrogacy situation featured in the film is motivated by financial need. At one point during the film, a main character boldly says, “Money can buy you just about anything.” The surrogacy agency is referred to as a “factory.” The women working there look miserable. There’s no hint of the “I just want to be a blessing to a family in need” media spin we’re perpetually spoonfed in American media.
- The film tugs at the heartstrings, inviting empathy for the surrogate and child, not just the intended parents. Again, this is a major inversion of the textbook American narrative, and it’s an important one.
- The film draws badly needed attention to real life surrogacy nightmare situations, inviting people to ask the questions that usually get glossed over: What happens if the baby has a disability? Who gets to decide? Are babies only worth keeping if they’re “perfect?” How does surrogacy contribute to eugenics? What happens to surrogates when they’re abandoned by the intended parents?
- The movie never once frames surrogacy as a human right.
- The movie illuminates important truths about the bond between surrogate mother and child.
In the end, we were pleasantly surprised by the bold messaging in “Mimi,” and we’re hopeful that those who watch it will walk away from it asking themselves the questions about surrogacy that should give all of us pause. We’re grateful there’s a movie in widespread circulation with enough courage to ask those questions in the first place.