With her glossy black hair and glamorous red sari, Dr Nayna Patel swept on to our screens last night like a movie star – a particularly bossy movie star. In fact, she's the IVF practitioner at the centre of India's $1bn-a-year commercial surrogacy industry. At her clinic and dormitory in Gujarat, she not only oversees the pregnancies of 100 women at a time, but also likes to weigh in on many other aspects of their personal lives: what they should spend their fee on, what skills they should learn, and whether they should kick that no-good husband out on to the street. So was Dr Nayna an evil capitalist exploiting the desperate for her own gain? Or a pioneering scientist and feminist crusader to boot?
The makers of House of Surrogates put this question to Patel herself, several times, in several ways, over the course of their 90-minute film. Never once did she struggle for an answer or look remotely shifty. Whatever your personal views may be on the ethics of surrogacy, this was clearly a woman who sincerely believed she's doing the right thing.
Patel's surrogates were given medical care, three meals a day and the attentions of a no-nonsense matron. After the baby is born, they take home $8,000 of the total $20,000 surrogacy fee. This is often enough for a woman to build her own home, or, as in the case of surrogate Vasanti, send her daughter to an English-speaking school, so that she may never be reduced to renting out womb-space.
If anyone came off badly here it wasn't the surrogates – whose decisions, in the circumstances, seemed rational – or even Patel, but the couples flying in from wealthy Western nations to collect their babies. Canadian Barbara made a loving mother with a jolly matronly appearance, but she was insensitive to the attachment her surrogate-cum-wet-nurse Edan was forming with the baby and heedless of the pain it would cause when they were eventually separated. To be fair to Barbara, this wasn't just a case of insensitive people flailing in etiquette's uncharted waters; even the most socially adept would struggle to gloss over such glaring evidence of global inequality.
All in all, it fell some way short of Patel's dream for a sisterly utopia of "one woman helping another woman" to achieve each of their dreams, but with Patel's charisma, unwavering conviction, and the new, $6m facility currently under construction, who knows? Perhaps she'll get there in the end.
The bods behind Sky Living's new Drama Matters strand are also all about the sisterhood as evidenced by their series of five one-off dramas made by women, for women. The first instalment, The Psychopath Next Door, saw the bonds of female friendship strength-tested by a new arrival in a tightknit suburb.
Anna Friel was clearly having a lot of fun as titular crazy lady Eve. She pulled up in her convertible, all dolled up like Barbara Stanwyck after a shopping spree in Next. They should have arrested her for inciting moral depravity as soon as those red stilettos hit the cul-de-sac tarmac. Instead, Eve ran amok, flirting with other people's husbands, cutting the leaves off treasured pot plants and having if off with barmen in the interval between martinis. The casting of instantly sympathetic actresses Eva Birthistle (Waking the Dead) and Claire Keelan (The Trip, Nathan Barley) as Eve's victims made her antics all the more gripping.
So why did it come to such an abrupt end, with so many questions left unanswered? It was as if Eve had chopped off the final pages of the script with her plant-mutilating scissors. Perhaps they were hoping to whet commissioning appetites for a full series of The Psychopath Next Door? Twelve episodes of this sub-Desperate Housewives dramedy might be pushing it, but another 20 minutes would have been nice.
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