I am SO EXCITED to finally write this spoilers review so we can all gab together about this movie and the various slight oddities in it.
Whole plot in two paragraphs:
A nice decent white couple, John and Summer, are looking for a surrogate in India. Summer lived in Delhi for years and understands the culture. They want a private surrogacy arrangement, they are turned off by the usual brokers. They explain the situation to the driver they have hired, Pankaj Tripathi, who is sympathetic because he and his wife have also struggled to have children. He offers to help them find a nice healthy young woman who will be well-paid. They pick out Kriti, a dancer and daughter of a singer who dreams of going to Bombay to be an actress but needs money. Kriti agrees, lies to her parents that she has a performing job, moves in with her best friend who lives in the Muslim neighborhood of town, and Pankaj is around and helping both of them through the pregnancy. John and Summer are back in America but heavily involved through calls and photos. And then they return to India for the 5 month check up and learn their baby might have Downs Syndrome. Summer freaks out and drags John away, they abandon Kriti. The doctor suggests an abortion, but Kriti refuses. Pankaj takes her back home where they lie to her parents that Pankaj is her new husband and the father of the child. Her parents struggle but then accept and are excited about the baby. The baby is born, pure white, and everyone is stunned by it’s unusual beauty. Kriti’s friend offers to raise the baby for her while she goes away to Bombay, Pankaj’s wife shows up and the truth comes out and Kriti’s parents understand and Pankaj’s wife is also ready to take the child. But Kriti decides she loves this baby. She gives up her dreams and stays in the small town to raise the child. Who turns out to not have Downs Syndrome after all, the test has a margin of error.
Years later, after the baby has been loved and kept safe by this large unusual extended family his whole life, John and Summer show up again. John says that Summer never recovered from walking away from the baby, she even attempted suicide, and then they saw a video of Kriti and her white son dancing together and knew their child was healthy and alive. They threaten lawsuits and Kriti agonizes, but then decides to give her son up to save him from a long legal battle they can’t win. At the last minute, they go to meet John and Summer and hand off the baby, and John tells them they don’t have to. Instead, he and Summer met and fell in love with a little girl at an Indian orphanage. They are taking their daughter home, and leaving Kriti with her son.
What this movie does is strip away all the “what will people think” concerns. That is my favorite part of the film. John and Summer don’t talk about being ashamed of using a surrogate or anything like that, they just explain the situation. Kriti agrees to the pregnancy because she likes them and it is good money and a good thing to do, she thinks. After the baby is born, everyone is ready to raise this white child of an unmarried mother without any concern for society. Yes, sure, people will talk. But who cares?
Instead, the concerns revolve around “what do you feel, deep inside, unrelated to what is happening around you?”
John and Summer are a nice couple who clearly love each other and want a child. They discuss their situation calmly and logically, Summer even speaks Hindi. It’s important that they are non-Indians to explain how they can so utterly disappear from Kriti’s life. And to explain how her son looks so noticeably different. But beyond that, there is no difference between they and Pankaj and his wife. The first conversation establishes that, both sides see a universality to the desire for a child.
Kriti is a silly teenage girl, but she also is truly excited about doing this for John and Summer, the adventure and the challenge of it. And she takes the pregnancy seriously, looks after her health, handles the mood swings, all of that. That blind confidence and jumping into a situation is very young, but she does the right thing once she commits. Everyone does the right thing, Pankaj doesn’t abandon her and neither do John and Summer. Everyone treats each other with respect as fellow humans.
And then the moment when it all shifts, when Summer learns the baby might have Downs. This is the part I found most specific to India in the way the pressure to abort is handled. I believe in a woman’s right to choose, which means a woman’s right to choose NOT to have an abortion as well. In the Indian context, forced abortions are a daily tragedy. In this case, it is the medical issue, Kriti’s youth and aloneness, the abandonment by John and Summer, all of these reasons that cause her doctor to recommend abortion. And Kriti takes a stand and makes up her own mind in an instant. As is her right, as is the right of any woman.
You see Kriti’s panic in that moment and confusion, but not on this one decision. That’s universal as well. My favorite moment of Badhai Ho was the same thing, the doctor recommending abortion and the woman saying “No. I know myself, and I know I can’t do that”. If a woman says “No. No abortion, I am sure”, that should be the end of the conversation. It’s her decision and it is up to everyone else to work with that decision.
It’s perhaps a little easy that Kriti’s parents end up accepting her pregnancy, that her best friend is divorced and ready to raise the baby, even that Pankaj’s wife shows up and accepts the baby too. But I will allow it, this is a movie after all. And I find it honestly believable. Babies are magic. They come along, and people pull together and make it work somehow and forget why they were upset in the first place. The important part is that, once again, it all rests on Kriti’s decision. She has the option of, essentially, adoption. She knew she wanted to carry this baby to term, but does she want to give up her life and raise it? And slowly, over weeks, she decides that yes she does.
The slogan of Planned Parenthood is “Make Every Child a Wanted Child”. And I think that is what we see in this movie in the last part. Kriti’s family isn’t rich, they are still stuck in a small town in India, but this child is very much loved and wanted and that is all that matters. That’s all a child really needs (besides basic nutrition, also important). When John and Summer show up, ready to take “their” child back based on biology, on wealth, on western resources, it is all meaningless. They weren’t there when things got hard, they didn’t have enough love, so they aren’t really family.
I like the message of “biology is meaningless, a child is your child” that comes with the biological child staying in India and John and Summer adopting an orphan instead. But I HATE the lesson that John and Summer get to adopt an orphan!!! You know they screen for these things, right? If Summer had been pregnant and they had privately decided they could not handle a baby with Downs and she had terminated the pregnancy, fine. But walking away from your biological fetus and the woman carrying it? NOT FINE!!!!! This couple should not be allowed to have children! If the little girl they adopt ends up developing diabetes or something, are they gonna just walk away again?
I guess all of those things I am thinking are what makes this a good movie! We can use it as a jumping off place to talk about what makes a family, what makes a parent, what makes a good life for a child. Big universal questions. There’s no “message” exactly, there’s no problems without solutions to agonize over, just a nice story in which people struggle to figure out the right thing to do.
At the end of this, I found myself really really wanting a Hollywood remake. And then just wanting a remake for everywhere. This is a universal story. Young lower income woman hired to be a surrogate, biological parents abandon her, she and her family raise and love this child, and then the rich biological parents return. What happens next?