NEW DELHI Talking about sex is still a cultural taboo in conservative India, but a Bollywood filmmaker is hoping to usher in change with a light-hearted take on infertility and sperm donation.
"Vicky Donor", a romantic comedy about a sought-after sperm donor at a fertility clinic, is part of a wave of recent films tackling subjects rarely addressed in Indian cinema - gay relationships, biopics on sex symbols and now sperm donation.
Indian audiences, torn between rigid social mores and the challenges of a rapidly modernising nation, have gradually accepted Bollywood films with bolder themes. But sperm donation may be pushing the limits.
"Conservative families, how they will react, I don't know," said the film's director, Shoojit Sircar. "Things may change. There are chances that youngsters may tell their parents to go and watch the film."
In January, a couple's advertisement offering 20,000 rupees for the sperm of an Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) alumnus sparked an online furore.
Sircar, whose 2005 film "Yahaan" was a love story set in Kashmir, said he steered clear of adult jokes for "Vicky Donor". "Vicky" is the name of the main character.
"Sperm donation could become a little repulsive if not presented right because it is a taboo and sperm donation straight away relates to masturbation," the 43-year-old film-maker told Reuters in a phone interview from Mumbai.
"The treatment is quite humorous, a very Woody Allen-ish style of humour."
Much of the dialogue in "Vicky Donor" is sourced from real-life anecdotes, with the filmmakers taking inspiration from the doctors and patients they met while researching the movie.
The trailer depicts a childless couple seeking a cricketer's sperm sample so that their offspring could play for the country and also make a lot of money.
"This is a subject that we talk only in our bedrooms but infertility is a huge problem in this modern society," said Sircar.
Despite marketing gimmicks such as men dressed in sperm suits dancing at the film's music launch earlier this month, the makers of "Vicky Donor" may find it difficult to counter the stigma attached to sperm donation.
No mainstream Bollywood star, with the exception of its producer, John Abraham, features in Sircar's film. The director says he didn't even bother asking the Indian film industry's reigning heroes.
"Any star would have liked the script but they wouldn't have agreed to be a part of the film, I knew that," said Sircar.
Instead, newcomer Ayushmann Khurrana, a known face on Indian television who donated sperm as part of a reality TV show task, was cast in the lead role.
"Sperm donation is something not generally discussed openly, at least no one knows about the lives of professional sperm donors in India," said film critic Utpal Borpujari.
"If this film is able to give a perspective to the whole thing -- even if in a comic way -- the director will deserve kudos for bringing an important issue out in the open."
"Vicky Donor" opens in cinemas on April 20.
(Reporting By Tony Tharakan; Editing by Elaine Lies)