The Last Conception (2020), directed by Gabriela Ledesma and adapted from Gabriel Constans’ novel of the same name, is a brave and powerful attempt to question the existing status quo and engineer social change.
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It does not do this pedantically – rather, it takes a humorous, warm route and keeps you interested throughout its 90 minute runtime. It is one of those heartwarming films that stays with you long after the credits roll; the issues raised sting and unsettle but also encourage.
This film, ripe with diversity and culture, tells the story of the Sikand family who are counting on their headstrong daughter, Savarna, to continue their bloodline. However, the family is in the dark about her girlfriend, Charley.
The family’s expectations invite trouble for Savarna, since she is yet to lift the curtain off her sexual orientation and tell them that she isn’t made for parenthood.
As the last descendants of an ancient bloodline, and a lot hinges on the family’s daughter, considering their lineage can be traced back to Gautam Buddha himself!
Homophobia in 21st Century India
Homophobia and disdain for the gay community is, unfortunately, not uncommon in India. While times are changing, it would be safe to say that homosexuality still raises eyebrows in the Indian community, and the queer community is often a laughing stock.
The Indian-American Sikand family in The Last Conception (2020) is no different. They get the shock of their lives when they learn that their embryologist daughter Savarana (Nazanin Mandi) is a lesbian, and the friend, Charley (Callie Schuttera), whom she wants her parents to meet during the critical dinner scene, is a woman.
“We don’t hate gay people but she is our daughter!” her parents say.
Homophobia is not alien to several conservative societies around the world, and while the family is rather modern, having moved to the US 20 years ago, helplessness washes over them as they realize Savarna won’t budge and this is ‘not just a phase.’
Savarna is not alone, but rather mirrors the tale of numerous similar queers across India and other conservative societies, where the acceptance of the LGBTQ community is still to come.
The Sikand family are not untouched by their very Indian inhibitions, and their first reaction when they first hear of Savarna being gay is sheer shock. This feverishly daunting task for Savarna, of her coming out of the closet, is a microcosmic depiction of similar experiences of thousands of people around the world.
This cultural divide is evident even in our character’s nomenclature. In Hindi, ‘Savarna’ means someone who belongs to a higher caste, while, in this film she is an ‘other’ because she belongs to a marginalized group.
The Last Conception’s treatment of societal issues
Heartwarming and funny moments are peppered throughout the film that prevent its tone from becoming too monotonous or wearisome. This helps considering it has some pivotal issues at its core such as maternity, fertility, reproductive rights, and homosexuality.
The arguments of this dysfunctional family are as real as they can get, and you can see that the parents are trying hard to embrace the ‘modernity’ of their daughter, but are perhaps caught in the shackles of their own rigid beliefs and cultural constrictions.
Despite this generational and cultural gap, you never seem to despise the parents, since their concern for Savarna is always lurking on the surface.
You can almost empathize with them; they belong to a different generation and a country where nobody talks openly about homosexuality, and are trying to get a foot in the door in this new, advanced, ‘woke’ world. Her parents’ reaction is important; a slightly sardonic attitude and the story would have taken a completely different turn.
The Last Conception (2020) also raises difficult yet relevant questions about motherhood and the extent to which women are pressured and coaxed to give birth at a ‘respectable’ age, lest their fertility wither away, and their biological clock winds to a stop.
The film also advocates the idea that women are not just birth-givers, but clearly much more than that. On the other end of the spectrum, if a woman decides not to become a mother, then that should not belittle her femininity either. Very few movies pave the way for such imperative discussions and this is where The Last Conception (2020) stands out.
A way to get the conversation going
This comedy-drama can also be a good medium to pave the way for several conversations about motherhood and sexual orientations. This becomes even more important in societies that are suffocated under the weight of heteronormativity, gender binaries, and predefined gender roles.
In the end, despite the arguments, the fights, and the yelling, the Sikand family tries to reinforce the idea of family love and togetherness despite all odds. The family is certainly shocked after hearing about her sexuality, but they do not abandon her – instead, they rally around her; and even though it takes some time, they gradually embrace Charley too.
The Last Conception (2020) is a quirky, fun watch and offers something unique. It is thought-provoking, introspective, and informational without being nauseatingly dogmatic.
Editor: Ben Kelly
Second Editor & Artwork: Richard Williams
Isha Sharma lives in Delhi, India, and is an English literature graduate passionate about reading, writing, feminism, social issues, and binge-watching.