Nina’s Heavenly Delights
Directed by Pratibha Parmer
Written by Andrea Gibb
Starring Shelley Conn, Laura Fraser, and Veena Sood
Screened Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2008
MFA Boston’s Gay & Lesbian Film Festival
The ingredients are more than tasty: exotic curries, a spicy relationship with a business partner or lesbian lover, a secret marriage, a generational culture-clash, and a televised cooking competition involving Indian family-owned curry restaurants, all set in Glasgow, Scotland. From this tantalizing stew comes “Nina’s Heavenly Delights,” a flavorful romantic comedy during the first half that soon stumbles and struggles and winds up undercooked.
Director Pratibha Parmer, making her feature film debut after a series of successful documentaries, and screenwriter Andrea Gibb, open the film with Nina Shah (Shelley Conn), a headstrong Scottish Asian woman returning to Glasgow for her father’s funeral. She quickly discovers her beloved Dad’s gambling debts have closed The New Taj, a premier Indian restaurant, where he was the owner-chef and two-time trophy winner of the Best of the West Curry Competition.
Nina, whose culinary skills were shaped by her father at an early age, decides to compete for a third trophy to both honor her father and save the restaurant. Helping her succeed is Glasgow native Lisa Mackinlay (Laura Fraser), an old school pal and business partner. Their closeness in the kitchen heats up as a determined Nina unexpectedly falls in love with the charismatic woman and strives to keep it a secret.
Soon other family secrets are revealed, most notably her brother’s clandestine marriage to a Scottish woman, which he has kept secret from his mother (Veena Sood). Mom, who earlier in the film upbraids her daughter for running away to London and refusing an arranged marriage with an equally distinguished curry-house rival named Sanjay (Raji James), barely blinks when her son finally reveals his secret wife.
Beyond the immediate family and lovers are the amusing and colorful “Chutney Queens,” a quartet of gay dancers led by Nina’s childhood chum Bobbi (Ronni Jhutti), a wannabe Bollywood drag queen. On the eve of the televised curry competition, the boys, along with Nina’s family, are asked to taste and evaluate chicken shakuti (chicken in coconut gravy) and barley lamb chop curry that ends with everyone getting up from the table and line dancing around the table to “Daydream Believer.”
For all its quirkiness, “Nina’s Heavenly Delights” is beautifully filmed and well-acted as it shows how a young woman balances her own identify while respecting the traditions of her ethnic family. But it struggles with a series of plot clichés, including the ghost of Nina’s father offering encouragement and repetitious dialogue, like “Taste it in your heart … always follow your heart.”
Alas, the movie’s mix of tragedy, laughter, and love is like a promising stew that needed more fire than exotic ingredients to become a truly memorable film.