Interview: Vaishali Sinha and "Made in India"

Vashali Sinha

Vaishali Sinha's documentary film "Made in India" casts an unbiased eye toward a complex subject: that of Western couples' outsourcing surrogacy to Indian women.

PopTech: What inspired you make this film and to tell this story?
Vaishali Sinha: My co-director Rebecca Haimowitz came across an article in the LA Times in late 2006 about couples going to India to hire surrogate mothers, and she had been interested in surrogacy-related issues. I was also working on issues of personal choice and body politics. We met over a cup of coffee and found there were lots of intersections in our interests. So we decided to pick up the camera and find those who were involved in this process. We figured it had to be a documentary film because it was something that was happening right then.

How did you find the subjects of your film?
Back in 2007 when we started, it was hard to find couples who were speaking out about their experiences. Since then, things have drastically changed — there are blogs where couples connect and share. Back then, who we found to be most visible online was a marketing medical tourism company called Planet Hospital, which is featured in the film. Much like our American couple Lisa and Brian [the couple featured in the film], we found them online. They first connected us to Lisa and Brian and it pretty much happened chronologically as it happened in the film. 

Did you find that the medical tourism company was receptive to the idea of filmmakers coming around and asking questions?
When we were in the process we often wondered, why are they being so candid? And so open to having cameras into this very nascent business, where the outcomes are really unknown?

We did explain that this was going to be an exploration, it wasn’t something that was going to be slanted in one way or another. Because frankly we were grappling with some issues that are very gray. I think that first conversation was helpful [to convince them]. Perhaps they were thinking that any publicity is good publicity. Which I don’t think turned out to be true.

I was reading the comments on the film's trailer and on Youtube, and this subject is really touching a chord for people. Why do you think it’s resonating so deeply?
It’s a couple of things. One, it brings out the savior in everybody. "We must protect you." People are trying to imagine themselves in that situation. I think there are many universal themes that the film and the subject raise. Among them are very personal questions of motherhood, adoption and infertility.

Then there are those who are totally against corporations and the proliferation of industries, and those who are interested in sexuality and human rights. Some of these I honestly believe are just core, day-to-day issues that the film presents about getting a service at a lower cost, or at what cost, – questions of ethics and morals. 

What was the most surprising thing that you learned in the process of making the film?
I think the learning curve is continuing. In India, there’s very little work being done with the surrogates to highlight their voices. I’ve learned that if we're talking about protecting rights of any marginalized group, we need to hear from them. I think that's where we should put our focus.

Is it usually single women or married women who are doing this, or both?
It’s actually mostly married women, as far as I know, who are doing it. They can be of any status, but they should have proven fertility records, which means they've had a [healthy] child in the past. These are all suggested in a set of guidelines that a health ministry or the advisory board to the government suggests that the government adopt as policies for regulating the industry. While the regulations have not been made yet, these guidelines are what most clinics are going by. But the practices are happening purely on an adherence basis. So if someone wanted to go against those guidelines and form their own rules, they can [still] do that.

What do you hope people come away with from the film?
I hope they leave the room with more questions. I hope the film engages people in a way that we’re all discussing the issue, not dismissing it as a very black-and-white opinion. I hope eventually more gets done in getting the film to women in India. On our end, we’re doing whatever we can, with support from our funders, Fledgling Fund, in dubbing the film in Hindi and getting it out there to women.

Image: Thatcher Cook for PopTech

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