The non-fiction film “Made in India” focusses on the sensitive issues of surrogacy and women's rights, without passing judgment or taking sides
If all countries were to meet to brag about their latest contributions to the world, India may just have to repeat that classic line from “Deewar”: “Mere Paas Maa Hai”.
That Mother India has a billion kids is further evidence of the nation's fertility. Add to that the fact that surrogacy and healthcare in India come at the lowest price than anywhere else in the world. And so Americans Lisa and Brian were pointed towards India after the doctors told Lisa she would never be able to give birth to a baby.
The emotional rollercoaster and adventure that followed were documented by filmmakers Rebecca Haimowitz and Vaishali Sinha in their film “Made in India” which has been garnering critical acclaim in festivals around the world since its premiere in Brazil, followed by screenings in Southeast Asia, Europe and the U.S.
Earlier this year, the film premiered in India at the Jaipur International Film Festival (January) and was recently screened at the Asian Women's Film Festival in New Delhi (March 7/9). Last week, the film won the Best Documentary Award at the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival.
“Lisa and Brian Switzer, the American couple, opened up their lives to us wholly, in 2007, and trusted us deeply with our filmmaking process. Because of theirs and the surrogate's candidness, we were able to document the entire process of surrogacy closely,” says Vaishali, co-director of the film.
Rebecca and Vaishali were captivated by the subject from the moment they heard about it. “It encapsulated several issues ranging from globalisation, commodification of the body, personal choice and reproductive health to women's rights, poverty and global economics,” says Rebecca.
“We were, however, wary from the beginning of sensationalist headlines and wanted to look past those stories to understand, in a more meaningful way, the choices made by those involved at the heart of the story.”
“Made in India” has also been nominated for the Ridenhour Institute's Documentary Prize for excellence in truth telling. Getting a surrogate mother and the allied doctor and lawyer fees alone escalate the costs of surrogacy to over $1,00,000 in the U.S. The documentary not only looks at the issue from the perspective of doctors who are advocating it purely from the view of boosting health tourism in the country; but also goes deeper into the economic and emotional condition of the surrogate and the factors that governed her decision to go forward with it, the complicated aftermath of childbirth as well as the legal hassles involved in the process of proving that the DNA of the child was indeed American so that the biological mother's name was rightly recorded in the birth certificate.
“We see this film as an opportunity to raise audience awareness, especially to capitalise on the present window of time to speak about the surrogacy bill and women's rights — the bill is currently under review at the Law Ministry but there are provisions in the guidelines that are yet being contested by different groups and individuals,” Vaishali explains.
“All our characters constantly challenged us to redefine any simplistic assumptions of victims or opportunists,” adds Rebecca. “As documentarians being present to capture a process unfolding first-hand, we did not want to become agents of information. The surrogate, Aasia, finally demanding on her own for what she felt was rightfully hers (more compensation) is important and integral to the film.”
Within the framework of non-fiction narrative, the film keeps the proceedings entertaining and dramatic as it captures the spirit and the sense of humour of the surrogate and takes us through the entire episode as seen from point of view of the two mothers — the biological and the surrogate — without really passing judgment or taking a side but having its heart in the right place.
What about the business of surrogacy itself? “We are neither interested in condemning this practice nor do we want to promote it,” says Vaishali.