The function of a friend is to affirm you when life gives you lemons and this is underscored by the friendships portrayed in Laxman Utekar’s Mimi. Mimi offers endearing instances of deep emotional bonding between non-blood kin and those without umbilical connections and genetic links, and those with dissimilar religious backgrounds, thereby underlining the significance of chosen families. A cash-strapped professional dancer in a small town in Rajasthan, Mimi Rathod (Kriti Sanon) aspires to be a Bollywood actress. It is Bhanu (Pankaj Tripathi) who comes to her aid with a scheme to make quick cash by becoming a surrogate mother. Promised cash up front and assured that surrogacy won’t harm her body, Mimi consents to carry the child of a childless white American couple—John and Summer—in her womb. However, all hell breaks loose, when the couple refuses to take responsibility for its child that is growing in Mimi’s womb fearing it is disabled. Braving social opprobrium directed at unwed mothers and their children, Mimi gives birth to and raises her surrogate child, Raj, as a single mother. Mimi’s life is upended when Raj’s biological parents arrive at her doorstep to take custody of their child. Mimi’s kith and kin and strangers-turned-friends stand by her and are ready to make sacrifices to help Mimi win legal rights over Raj’s custody. Mimi ends on an upbeat note as the American couple relinquishes their custodial rights over Raj and instead adopt an orphan girl. It is heartening to watch the support extended by Mimi’s parents, by her friend Shama (Sai Tamhankar) and by Bhanu to Mimi to wade through her personal (life-altering) crisis successfully
Although Mimi revolves around its eponymous protagonist, her friendships –with Shama as well as Bhanu– are the film’s memorable takeaways. The foregrounding of inter-gender friendship is less explored in Bollywood cinema. The three are clearly and consistently trying their best to do right by one another as Mimi walks on the treacherous and arduous path of surrogacy. It’s a treat to watch the trio’s shenanigans and strategies to hoodwink the world as they keep Mimi’s surrogacy under the wraps — Bhanu impersonates as a Muslim man and Mimi as his burkha-clad wife; Shama gives them shelter in her house during the pregnancy period. Mimi (a Hindu) and Shama (a Muslim) are childhood friends. Shama has been a disciple of Mimi’s musician-father. Right from the time Mimi is introduced in the film through the song-dance sequence of “Paramsundari”, we are given to understand that Shama and Mimi are indispensable to each other’s life and livelihood. We see Mimi dancing and lip-syncing to the song that is being sung on-stage by Shama. There is no professional rivalry between them. It is heartening to see Shama appreciating Mimi’s beauty through showering kisses at her in the “Paramsundari” song-dance sequence.
Friendships rely on openness and secrecy, sharing and caring, unconditional and mutual support and guidance between friends —Mimi-Shama’s camaraderie has all these ingredients. If Mimi is the accelerator of a speeding car, Shama is its brake. Shama is fiercely protective of Mimi. Considering Shama as her sounding board, Mimi confides in her about the American couple’s proposal for surrogacy. Mimi is highly optimistic of better fortune coming her way once she agrees to be the surrogate mother. Appalled by the risk Mimi runs if she were to sell her body for surrogacy and wary of Mimi’s choice to be a mother outside of marriage, Shama tells Mimi to think carefully about the long-term repercussions of her choice to beget a child. Together Mimi and Shama are formidable. Hoping to impress Mimi and convince her to accept John-Summer’s surrogacy proposal, Bhanu drops Mimi and Shama, for free, to their house in his taxi. However, he is defeated in his attempts, and instead feels intimidated when he overhears Shama advising Mimi to use the knife in her possession in case Bhanu posed any danger. Shama, a divorcee, can express her desires, forbidden by society, to Mimi without any inhibition. Both Shama and Mimi find John sexually appealing and Shama, who had earlier dissuaded Mimi from accepting the surrogacy proposal, does not hesitate to tell Mimi that anybody would be ready to sleep with John. Shama is the first person whom Mimi embraces when the doctor announces Mimi’s pregnancy. Shama bales Mimi out of many troublesome situations. She shelters the pregnant Mimi in her house away from Mimi’s parents who are kept in the dark about her surrogacy. Shama gives Mimi her burkha to conceal herself and maintain anonymity. Shama personifies the adage “It's the friends you can call up at 4 am that matter.” She turns up at the hospital alone in the dead of night when Mimi is in labour.
Considering Mimi her soulmate, Shama confides in Mimi the share of trials—grief caused by the death of her mother, isolation caused by an aloof and spiritually-inclined father and mental torment caused by an abusive marriage—life has thrown at her. Shama empathises with Mimi’s emotional turmoil. When Mimi is pained to think that she has self-sabotaged her dreams by agreeing to be the surrogate mother, Shama offers to raise Mimi’s prospective child as her own and urges Mimi to pursue her Bollywood dreams in Mumbai. Mimi is overwhelmed to know that by accepting someone else’s child as her own, Shama is ready to invite social disgrace upon herself and ready to abort her own dreams just for the sake of uplifting her friend’s life and relieving her of misery. Mimi’s mother is deeply upset when she learns that Shama whom she had considered as her own daughter did not inform her about Mimi’s decision to be a surrogate mother. Like an obedient daughter, Shama takes the flak from Mimi’s mother lying down. There are two instances in the film when Mimi literally leans on Shama for support: the camera settles on Mimi resting her head on Shama’s palm that mimes as a pillow in the “Paramasundari” dance sequence. In the “Rihayi de” song sequence, Shama allows Mimi to rest her head on her shoulder indicating that Mimi has Shama’s back and Shama has the capacity to internalize her friend’s emotional burdens. By calling herself Raj’s “maasi”, Shama shares the responsibility of mothering Raj along with Mimi. Shama takes Raj to the mosque. It is comforting to anticipate that having been raised by two mothers from different faiths and therefore schooled at home in various traditions, beliefs and practices, Raj will be able to appreciate and respect a pluralistic and multi-cultural society.
Bhanu, who had settled the surrogacy deal between Mimi and the American couple in exchange for brokerage, does not leave Mimi in the lurch. Mimi and Shama grudgingly accept Bhanu into their group who is initially seen as an intruder by them; however, with time they feel kindred towards one another. There are a couple of occasions when the trio are seen within the same frame. The saucy banter that Mimi exchanges with Bhanu, who waxes eloquent about motherhood, during Mimi and Shama’s first ride in his taxi, is something one does with a close friend; but that Mimi does so during her first encounter with Bhanu suggests the imminence of a close friendship between the three. When Mimi’s parents come to know about her pregnancy, Mimi and Shama hold Bhanu responsible for creating all the trouble and Mimi faults him for deceiving her, oblivious to the confusion and fear that Bhanu would have been grappling with at that point. Although mercenary motivations had initially encouraged Bhanu to settle the surrogacy deal, he is not worried that he has lost his fees because the American couple fail to honour their deal, but is rather worried about the precarious future awaiting the pregnant Mimi who has been left high and dry by the unreasonable decision of the American couple. Without harbouring any resentment towards Mimi, Bhanu builds a lived-in rapport, of the platonic kind, with Mimi. A married man, Bhanu is forced to share the room with Mimi for her parents initially mistake him as their grandchild’s father.
Tripathi’s character persuades viewers to be optimistic about the existence of empathetic and well-meaning strangers in the increasingly materialistic world that we live in. “Driver hoona bibiji. Hamara ek usool hai passengerko bitha liya toh manzil per chode bigar waapas nahi loutthe” – Bhanu’s words about his professional ethics is heartening. Bhanu drives Mimi, along with her parents, to the hospital for her delivery and signs his name as the child’s relation. Once Raj is born Bhanu entertains him as though he were his maternal uncle. Raj also fulfils Bhanu and his wife’s desire to have a child that they have been waiting to have for years. It is heartening to watch Shama and Bhanu trying their best, either by dancing or singing to lift up the pregnant Mimi’s sagging spirits. Their bonding is so close that Shama and Bhanu are also to an extent afflicted by Mimi’s depressive moods.
Mimi, through the foregrounding of the trio’s bonding successfully demonstrates how in the process of successfully navigating through life's ups and downs, sorrows and joys, failures and successes, despair and hope, with the support of well-meaning friends, strangers become chosen family and that the emotional benefits we derive from such relationships are immense.