Chutney Popcorn

             In the early days of Hollywood, when silents were popular, female
     directors flourished. Women were not just relegated to the cutting room or
     in front of the camera as actors. Such long forgotten figures as Lois Weber,
     Alice Guy-Blache and Cleo Madison were prominent pioneers. Some like
     Dorothy Arzner made the transition to the studio system. It took the
     Depression in the 1930s, the consolidation of the studios and the social
     ramifications of World War II to disenfranchise women in Hollywood.

             With the rise of independent film over the last several decades and
     the growing trend of turning everything into show business, more and more
     women have begun to craft films, lending further diversity to an already
     burgeoning field. Still, some voices are heard more loudly than others; the
     indie world, like mainstream filmmaking, remains predominantly a boys'
     club. In queer cinema, this has been particularly true until relatively recently.
     The movies that garnered attention and acclaim generally dealt with male
     sexuality. Those that dared to explore the lesbian experience were few and
     far between. Still, the critical praise of a
HIGH ART and the mainstream
     success of a
BOYS DON'T CRY coupled with the proliferation of gay and
     lesbian film festivals have allowed lesbian filmmakers more opportunities.
CHUTNEY POPCORN, Canadian-born actress and writer-director Nisha
     Ganatra (who survived working for Roseanne and Tom Arnold as a personal
     assistant) has lent her voice to the throng.

             Although clearly hampered by a low budget, Ganatra still managed
     to make an intriguing if not wholly successful comedy-drama. The film
     centers on Reena (Ganatra), a lesbian, henna tattoo artist and budding
     photographer, who is torn between her urban lifestyle replete with a cute
     girlfriend Lisa (Jill Hennessy) and her traditional upbringing. Because of her
     failure to find a man and her artistic aspirations, she is viewed as a problem
     child by her overbearing mother (Madhur Jaffrey), newlywed sister Sarita
     (Sakina Jaffrey) and non-Indian brother-in-law Mitch (Nick Chinlund).
     To be fair, Sarita is more accepting of Reena's homosexuality and the
     sisters share a complicated, very true to life relationship.

             After Lisa makes a remark about how selfish she can be and with the
     constant badgering of her family, Reena sets out to prove herself. When
     Sarita, who wants a family more than anything else, discovers she cannot
     have children, Reena offers her services as a surrogate mother. Ganatra
     examines the pitfalls of such a decision with good natured humor and wit,
     but she doesn't overlook the pain and hurt involved. Sarita moves from
     enthusiasm to indifference, particularly after the stress puts a strain on
     her marriage. Lisa claims to be all right with the idea, but when Reena
     actually gets pregnant, Lisa panics and nearly destroys her relationship.

             The script, co-authored by Ganatra and Susan Carnival, is warmly
     comic but doesn't contain any belly laughs. Although she hasn't completely
     found her voice as a director (some of the scenes aren't shaped well),
     Ganatra has tackled a potentially dramatic subject with a humanity and
     gentleness that compensates for the film's flaws. She also demonstrates
     strength as an actor's director, eliciting fine performances from the
     entire cast.

Rating:                     B-
MPAA Rating:            NONE
Running time:           93 mins.
© 2008 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.