Tag Archives: Baby

Designer Babies: The Genetic Saviors

Tell A Story – a column where riveting South Asian stories are presented like never before through unique video storytelling.

Genetic Engineering has always been a promising field of science right from its inception, but to advance to a level where babies can be designed before conceiving is definitely fascinating to note. 

Known as Designer Babies, their genetic makeup is pre-selected and altered to serve a purpose as needed. Using pre-screening and gene editing, many such babies have been created so far to save families. Conceived to save siblings from rare genetic disorders, they are also termed as savior siblings. 

It’s been 20 years since the first designer baby was born to the Nash family from Denver, Colorado, but the news is still a miracle to many. Adam Nash was conceived for his stem cells from the umbilical cord, which was later used for the life-saving treatment for his sister suffering from Fanconi’s Anemia. The controversial decision though saved his sister from the rare genetic disorder, it triggered an ethical battle and the family still continues to fight the backlash. 

Many questioned them for the motive of conception and few demanded explanation for challenging Darwin’s theory of evolution. Scientists continue to fear the consequences that may evolve in the future as the technology develops and gets adopted by the masses. 

The success of the first designer baby opened doors for many families that have a legacy of rare inherited genetic diseases. Since 2000, many countries have emulated the technology to save families. India had its first savior baby in 2018. Kavya Solanki conceived to save brother Abhijit from a rare blood disorder, thalassemia major. 

This powerful technology involving alteration of DNA sequences and modification of gene function is known as CRISPR technology. In-vitro fertilized embryos are genetically screened using preimplantation genetic diagnosis to find the one embryo that would be a potential bone match for their older siblings. Following this, the genetic makeup is selected or altered, often to include or remove a particular gene or genes associated with a disease that runs in the family. 

Though benefitted a few, scientists fear the rise of an elite class of genes created with illegal intentions. Gender diagnosis, trait preferences, the endless list of alarming consequences goes on; that may pose a major threat. Few scientific researchers have also raised concern over the health risks to human species with such creation of future generations. 

Tell-A-Story sheds light on this unique technology and its prospects while sharing the experiences of those families who have had designer babies, as they talk about the backlash, the need, and question of consent of the newborn. The video story also addresses the legal framework, future implications, and what lies ahead! 

Suchithra Pillai comes with over 15 years of experience in the field of journalism, exploring and writing about people, issues, and community stories for many leading media publications in India and the United States.

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The Spy Who Loved

The Spy Who Loved

NAAM SHABANA.  Director: Shivam Nair.  Players: Taapsee Pannu, Akshay Kumar, Prithviraj Sukumaran, Manoj Bajpayee, Anupam Kher, Danny Denzongpa, Natasha Rastogi, Taher Shabbir Mithaiwala.  Music: Rochak Kohli, Meet Bros.  Hindi with Eng.  subtitles.  Theatrical release (T-Series)

Naam ShabanaAfter the success of Pink (2016), where Pannu rocked the screen as a woman seeking to clear her name in the wake of a waylaid sexual assault, Pannu’s arc was sure to rise. And Naam Shabana, the prequel to Neeraj Pandey’s hit Baby (2015) would be a logical next stop. A team-approach story rather than a solo player entry, Naam Shabana has pretty much the same cast as the first installment and plays pretty much the same field. A little rough at the edges and yet smooth in delivery, Naam Shabana is a worthy follow-up that continues the uptick for Pannu.

For Shabana Khan (Pannu), a young woman on the verge of landing new beau Jai (Mithaiwala), a bright future takes a dark turn when Shabana and Jai are attacked one night. While still recovering, Shabana gets a cryptic call from someone claiming to know minute details of the attack–something unknowable unless the couple was being trailed to begin with. The mystery caller offers Shabana help with avenging the attack at a price. Thus, begins her odyssey into the world of clandestine international espionage.

Neeraj Pandey, who directed the first entry Baby (2015) in the sequence, here handles only the script. Pandey’s deft hand, however, spins the spy motif from the get-go. While there is plenty of action, the story never veers too far from a determined Shabana’s struggle to forge her own identity, make a professional mark and also avenge her personal loss. Shabana eventually lands on the trail of a ruthless international terrorist responsible for killing two Indian spies in Europe.

Much as Baby did, the backdrop to this movie gets validated by larger contemporary themes. Recent highly publicized attacks on some women on public transport in India received international attention and also brought into focus the role that self-defense primers can play in women’s safety. The faceless scourge of terrorism and the illicit drug trade has resulted in shape-shifting villains resorting to reconstructive facials and jumping borders at will while being pitted against an often-overwhelmed official spy network operating where no one can be relied upon and even few can be truly trusted.

For a thriller plotline that underlines guardianship of national security secrets, since the secrets themselves won’t be revealed the plotline must then rely on the credibility of the protagonist for the premise to hold water. And Pannu’s Shabana may be just the ace the script needs. In Baby (2015), Pannu already solidly carried her weight with a short, intensely meaty role as a highly-trained spy who confronts her terrorist courier in a posh Kathmandu hotel room. The resulting bare knuckles martial arts girl-vs.-boy brawl–all flying kicks and flying furniture—was essentially the moment Pannu’s star was born.

As an invisible guardian that swoops in unexpectedly, Kumar spends very little time on the screen. And yet his presence cannot be discounted since he was the engine that powered Baby and this is still his franchise.  Bajpayee as the home-front handler for the field spies, Denzongpa as the spy network overlord and Kher as the bumbling middle-aged techie nerd who knows the craft round out a wonderful cast of veterans while Sukumaran, a solid presence in movies from South India, does a terrific turn as villain.

Moving the locales from the Middle East, as with Baby, to Eastern Europe and Malaysia, Naam Shabana is a nice change of pace. There is also superb continuity in again tapping French action choreographer Cyril Raffaelli to elevate martial arts, and not guns, as the weapon of choice. Raffaelli injects realism without either glorifying violence or exhibiting protracted gore. While Naam Shabana has had only limited box-office success, given the sizable combined response to the two entries so far, an underwhelming financial draw with this round will likely not deter the franchise from adding more chapters down the road.
EQ:  A

Globe trekker, aesthete, photographer, ski bum, film buff, and commentator, Aniruddh Chawda writes from Milwaukee.