Chutney Popcorn (USA 1999) a review by Sunil Deepak
Presented at Berlin Film Festival 2000 and Gay & lesbian cinema festival San Francisco, 1999; Winner of public award at Gay and lesbian film festival, Milan, 2000.
Main Cast: Nisha Ganatra (Reena), Jill Hennessy (Lisa), Sakina Jaffery (Sarita), Nick Chinlund (Mitch) and Madhur Jaffery (Mom); Story & Direction by Nisha Ganatra
Sarita and Reena are sisters living in New York with their mother. Sarita is married to Mitch while Reena does mehndi designs for a living but her passion is photography. Reena is also lesbian and is in love with Lisa. Reena’s mother knows that her younger daughter is a lesbian but would like to hide it from all her Indian friends and relatives and hopes that one day her daughter can be ‘cured’.
Sarita and Mitch would like a baby but can't. They find out that Sarita has a uterus-related problem and can’t have children. Sarita is shattered at this news and Reena offers to be a surrogate mother. Mitch is happy at the idea. (Picture left: Madhur & Sakina Jaffrey as mother and Sarita).
They go to a clinic for artificial insemination where Mitch’s sperm is used for impregnating Reena. However, Reena fails to conceive. Reena decides to try artificial insemination at home with the help of her girl friend, Lisa. Mitch is happy to collaborate, providing regular supply of his sperm. However, this process has a negative effect on married life of Sarita and Mitch. Sarita also starts to have second thoughts about a baby born to her sister and decides that she doesn’t want the baby after all. So Sarita tells Reena to stop trying.
However, Reena misses her period and finds out that she is pregnant. Sarita is angry, she doesn't want the baby. Their mother is also angry, she didn’t know about this decision of Reena to be a surrogate mother. Reena wants to keep the baby but since Sarita doesn’t want the baby, this would mean that Reena and Lisa would have to raise up the baby. Lisa doesn’t like the idea of being a lesbian parent as she feels that this will change her relationship with her partner.
Tormented by conflicting expectations from different persons in her life, Reena decides to go ahead with her pregnancy. Lisa leaves Reena and goes back to stay with her mother. Reena is also depressed. Only, Mitch is happy with the idea of the coming baby.
As the baby grows in Reena’s body, Mitch comes to visit her but not Sarita. Slowly Reena's mother changes her opinion and becomes enthusiastic about the coming baby. Lisa also comes back, saying that she is willing to give a try to the idea of raising up a baby. Finally, Sarita too makes it up with her sister and is happy to be a maasi (aunt) to the coming baby.
Reena has her baby. Lisa is by her side, holding her hand. Mitch is there too. Sarita comes in and Reena introduces the baby to her maasi. Reena’s mother congratulates Lisa’s mother that now both of them are grandmothers and accepts that Reena and Lisa are a couple. The whole family, Reena, Lisa, Sarita, Mitch, mother and the baby pose for a family picture.
In some places, especially in the beginning the film looks like Megha Gulzaar’s film "Filhaal" but in the second half, it becomes a story of lesbian love and issues about a child in a lesbian-couple household. Since this film came out first, I was wondering if Meghna Gulzar get inspired by it?
The Film does enter into the nitty-gritty of semen, sperm, mechanics of getting pregnant, doing pregnancy tests, etc. with candour and humour. Some of the scenes are done are very well, like the discussion between Lisa and her mother when Lisa leaves Reena, or the dialogues between Reena and her mother, talking about genes determining the gay personality and wondering if some one else in their family was lesbian, or when Reena wonders if she is lesbian because she didn’t have a father figure at home. The distaste of lesbian couple to any thing male, comes through strongly when they handle Mitch's semen in a hilarious scene.
Nisha Gantra is not the average Bollywood heroine - she is dark and plump, being the butch while Lisa is the feminine-looking part of the couple. Of course there have been other dark heroines in Indian films, like Smita Patil and now Bipasha Basu, but for the colour conscious Bollywood, it is not very common. On the other hand, probably Nisha is not aiming to be a typical bollywood heroine. However Nisha is kind of lovable and vulnerable looking, and the film has been directed well. By the time the film finishes, you can't help liking her. Other actors and actresses are all good, especially Jill Hennessy as Lisa and Madhur Jaffery as Reena and sarita's mother.
There is an explicit lesbian scene and plenty of passionate kissing between the girls, which may shock some. However, once you get over the novelty, it is interesting to have a peek at the lesbian culture. A kind of "Bend it like Beckham" with a lesbian theme.
It is good film, worth seeing at least once.
Note - April 2023: I checked and found that Nisha Ganatra has continued to make films and TV shows and seems to have done some good work.
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