Mimi, Laxman Utekar's new film about surrogacy, is both a huge leap forward and backward. It's a massive improvement on Utekar's shoddy debut, Luka Chuppi. The film's ideas regarding adoption are also much more progressive than the last Bollywood film that revolved around pregnancy: Good Newwz. But the film suffers from a male gaze that's hard to ignore.
A remake of the acclaimed Marathi drama Mala Aai Vhhaychy!, Mimi revolves around a 25-year-old aspiring actress who agrees to bear a child for an American couple so that she can pursue her ambitions with the money that they promise her. It's an interesting, novel premise and Kriti Sanon is terrific as Mimi.
The first half is a breeze. There are some genuinely funny bits embedded into the screenplay, and Pankaj Tripathi and Sanon share a warm camaraderie that leaps off the screen. A few scenes do come off as preachy, attempting to "educate" the audience about surrogacy, but it's nevertheless entertaining. Writer Rohan Sharma and writer-director Laxman Utekar aren't aiming for realism. Mimi's parents are easily convinced every time there's a big reveal and some portions feel flat-out unbelievable. The film also lacks the texture other small town comedies have captured so well. But Mimi – both the character and the film – have immense heart, and if you're ready to suspend your disbelief, the charm makes up for the lack of logic.
However, even though some portions are sprightly, Mimi has long patches that are overcooked but underwritten. Towards the second half, the film gets caught in a spiral of high-strung drama and the humour dries out. The film is laced with artifice, and that only becomes more obvious as the film moves. I also didn't entirely buy into the turn of events in the last five minutes. The film's politics lack a female perspective, and that's evident in the way characters have been written. For example, Summer – the woman whose baby Mimi is having – has no other personality trait except for the fact that she wants a child.
It's the superb acting, then, that rescues Mimi, especially as the proceedings begin to get increasingly unrealistic. To begin with, it's refreshing to see good performances from American actors in a mainstream Hindi film. Often reduced to caricatures, foreign actors have always got the short end of the stick in Bollywood movies. Even though this film doesn't provide them with enough depth, Evelyn Edwards as Summer and Aidan Whytock as John deliver performances that are credible.
The shallow writing, though, extends towards Mimi's parents, played by Supriya Pathak and Manoj Pahwa. Both of them, as usual, make the most of the material. Pankaj Tripathi is outstanding as Bhanu. It's nice to see a man acting as a catalyst in a woman's journey, instead of the other way around, and Tripathi, not surprisingly, makes a meal of the part. It is Sanon, though, who is a revelation. She's always had an inherently likeable screen presence, but Mimi shows us a side of her we've never seen before. She not only holds her own among the veterans, but delivers a career-defining performance that's memorable long after the film is over.
The film is also richly seasoned with Akash Agarwal's cinematography and A.R. Rahman's music. This isn't Rahman's comfort zone, but he delivers. I wondered if the film's emotional landscape would've been half as fertile in the second half without 'Rihaayi De'.
Towards the end, Mimi tries too hard to extract tears, but the emotions land. I found myself getting wet-eyed more than once. Much of the credit goes to the performances and the leading lady, who makes the film work even when the writing doesn't support her. The film is far from flawless, but a star is (re)born.