The benefits and perils of “medical tourism” — a rapidly expanding industry in which foreigners seek services in poorer countries that would be too expensive in their own — are amply illustrated by “Made in India.” Winner of the docu competition at the San Francisco Asian-American Film Festival, Rebecca Haimowitz and Vaishali Sinha’s engrossing feature follows a working-class U.S. couple proceeding with a last-resort hope for having a child genetically their own: paying a young Mumbai woman to carry their implanted embryos in her womb. Broadcast prospects are excellent.
Hefty Texans Lisa and Brian Switzer (digging up XXL duds, an Indian stall proprietor asks, “What do they feed them there?”) have tried everything, but now face their 40s with no natural childbearing options left. Cursed with a uterine condition that prevents successful pregnancy, Lisa nonetheless insists a baby “is what I need to feel whole.”
Hiring a surrogate to grow their fertilized egg on home turf would cost up to $100,000, well beyond this couple’s means. So they turn to California’s Planet Hospital and its founder, Rudy Rupak (who, though it’s not noted here, wrote and produced a handful of 1990s features including the infamously bad “Snowboard Academy” with Brigitte Nielsen, Jim Varney and Corey Haim). Rupak is in the business of connecting individuals with everything from kidney donors to plastic surgery to the reproductive assist the Switzers seek — all for a fee, natch, although a fraction of that one would pay in the U.S.
Mortgaging their home to cover even this reduced price tag (approximately $25,000, though the Planet Hospital website currently lists it as “starting at $35,000”), the decidedly unworldly Switzers head off to India, where Aasia Khan, the illiterate but happily married mother of three healthy kids, has taken on this unlikely job to help secure their future beyond the slums. “Made in India” engages largely because of her unfailingly cheerful character — and because the Khans and the Switzers seem such rock-solid examples of marital harmony, which becomes increasingly crucial as almost everything that could go wrong does.
Over the course of their journey, Lisa and Brian Switzer become surprisingly articulate national spokespersons for third-party reproduction,” appearing on “Today,” “Oprah” and elsewhere. Despite their travails — exacerbated by a lack of regulation, though governments in India and elsewhere are now addressing that — they remain staunch proponents of the outsourcing that allowed them to finally become parents. This story’s inspirational quotient is qualified by a terrible epilogue shock, however.
While there’s a lot of narrative ground covered here, the otherwise expertly assembled package still feels a tad overlong.