Hindi cinema largely sidesteps the emotional and physical trauma associated with surrogacy – but adoption often features in technicoloured melodrama.

Some Hindi films depict couples who adopt because of infertility. In Aangan Ki Kali, Sunita is too unwell to conceive, but her husband, Anmol, is fixated on the idea of a biological child. Although Anmol initially disapproves when Sunita decides she wants to adopt a child, he finally accepts the child as his daughter.

In Vicky Donor, infertile Ashima tries to come to terms with her husband Vicky’s illustrious career as a sperm donor before they decide to adopt.

‘Vicky Donor’.

Adoption is most often an act of altruism. Consider Brahmachari and Mr India, in which orphaned men adopt hordes of children. Characters also adopt the offspring children of their deceased relatives or friends in many films, such as Hum Hain Rahi Pyar Ke 91993) and Parineeta. In Socha Na Tha, Aditi is expected to be eternally grateful to her aunt and uncle who looked after her after her parents died. Although it is never expected of them, Shalini in Dil Chahta Hai and Maya in Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna feel a similar sense of gratitude to their foster parents.

Relatives who adopt are not always kind, though. In Seema, Gauri is taken in by an aunt who is relentlessly cruel to her. Sunil is adopted by his paternal uncle only because of his inheritance in Gauri. And Seeta from Seeta Aur Geeta lives with her aunt and uncle, handling household chores with Cindrella-esque resignation.

‘Mr India’.

Adoption is often associated with trauma of violence or separation in Hindi films. In Zanjeer, a cop adopts Vijay after his parents are killed by Teja. In Mission Kashmir, Inayat, a police officer, adopts Altaf who is the sole survivor a family he guns down while pursuing terrorists. Childhood experiences of violence cause a bubbling angst in both Vijay and Altaf. On the other hand, dacoit Govindram adopts his victim’s daughter in Paraya Dhan.

Films centering on the lost-and-found trope often feature adoption as a side plot. The midwife decides to raise Geeta by herself in Seeta Aur Geeta, Shyam is adopted by a village woman after he is separated from his family in Ram Aur Shyaam, a wealthy couple adopts Ravi in Waqt and a single hotel manager adopts Vijay in Yaadon Ki Baaraat.

In Amar Akbar Anthony, Amar is taken in by a police officer, Akbar by a Muslim tailor and Anthony is adopted by a catholic priest. Amar Akbar Anthony explores the importance of blood ties with a sequence that is famously dramatic and superbly unscientific, featuring the eponymous characters donating blood to a woman they do not know is their birth mother.

‘Amar Akbar Anthony’.

However, Baghban, Kabhie Khushie Kabhie Gham and Vivaah feature adopted children who become more important to their parents than their biological children. In Baghban, Raj’s adopted son Alok worships his parents, while the biological sons are almost caricaturish in their disdain for Raj. In Kabhie Khushi Kabhi Gham, Yash thinks of the adopted Rahul, and not his biological son Rohan, as his elder son and heir apparent.

In Parvarish, circumstances lead police officer Shamsher into adopting Amit, a dacoit’s son. Amit grows along with Shamsher’s biological son, Kishan, and becomes a policeman. A series of misunderstandings leads Kishan to believe he is the dacoit’s son. Parvarish unravels how birth and blood do not shape an individual’s personality.

Divisions of caste, class and religion have been repeatedly explored through the prism of adoption. In Waqt, an insulted Ravi leaves his home when his fiancé’s parents question his birth and class, while the adopted Heera is consumed with the need to prove his parentage to the woman he loves in Laawaris.

Jis Desh Mein Ganga Rehta Hai explores class divides. A wealthy couple places Ganga with a poor, childless couple in a village citing health reasons. At the age of 25, Ganga finds it difficult to adjust to the lifestyle of his biological parents when they take him back to the city.

‘Jis Desh Mein Ganga Rehta Hai.’

In Sujata, Upen and Chaaru, a Brahmin couple, find themselves saddled with an orphaned untouchable girl on their daughter’s birthday. Although Upen eventually grows to love the baby and ironically names her Sujata (of pure orgin), Charu never quite warms up to her. Sujata’s anguish over her mother’s half-hearted affection towards her, the Brahmin Adheer’s steadfast determination to wed Sujata and Charu’s internal struggle between tradition and conscience reveal the many poignant dimensions of caste discrimination.

In Dharm, Pandit Chaturvedi, a Brahmin who is the religious and moral centre of his community finds himself reluctantly drawn to a child that his daughter has found and his wife has decided they must adopt. When the child’s Muslim mother comes to claim him, Panditji is terribly shaken, his idea of religion at war with his love for the adopted son.

There are also many mythological resonances in depictions of adoption in Hindi films. In Dharm, for instance, Panditji’s son is named Kartikeya, after the adopted son of the Hindu deity Shiva. In Raajneeti, Bharti has an illegitimate son who is adopted by the driver of the family and named Sooraj. The film is a part adaptation of the Mahabharata epic, and Sooraj’s character is inspired by Karna, the son of the sun god Surya.

Illegitimacy frequently leads to adoption in Hindi films. In Dil Kya Kare, Main Hoon Na and Shaandaar, men bring their illegitimate children home to their wives. Jenny in Kal Ho Naa Ho and Madhu in Main Hoon Na eventually accept their husband’s illegitimate children as their own. Vandana in Aradhana and Anjali in Kabhie Kabhie, on the other hand, have babies before they are married and are forced to give up their children for adoption.

When characters find out that they are adopted in Hindi films, they are often seized with a desire to meet their biological parents. In Kabhie Kabhie, Pinky searches out her biological mother and grows to love her. In Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, Imraan finds his biological father Salman after considerable emotional strife but is heartbroken when he finds out how little Salman cares for him.

Dil Aashna Hai and Tell Me O Kkhuda both feature female protagonists trying to find their biological parents through a baffling process of elimination. In a painfully obvious move to incorporate religious subtexts into its narrative, the men who could probably be the biological fathers are named Abhay, Altaf and Anthony in Tell Me O Kkhuda.

Adoption is a recurring trope in Hindi films, one that packs in many messages, and provides opportunities to weave powerful visual statements into narratives. Although Hindi films explore the emotional undercurrents and legal ramifications of adoption with varying degrees of sensitivity and depth, it often features as a device that makes a larger point.