Chutney Popcorn 
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Lisa (Jill Hennessy) and Reena (Nisha Ganatra) are in love, a fact not entirely likely to thrill Reena's traditionally minded Indian-American family. However, the complications of being a mixed-race young lesbian couple in New York pale into insignificance once Reena agrees to become a surrogate mother to her childless sister Sarita (Sakina Jaffrey). The two families involved have to learn to deal with changing values amid a challenging cultural divide.
Chutney Popcorn is an amusing exploration of surrogate motherhood that never lets cross-cultural or lesbian issues overrun what is essentially a family drama. Nisha Ganatra directs, writes and takes the lead role as Reena, a New York artist and lesbian with Indian roots that include an over-indulgent mother and newlywed perfect sister, Sarita. On finding that Sarita is infertile, Reena proposes becoming a surrogate mother, not just to help out her sister but to prove to her mother that she is capable of living up to the traditional values of womanhood. The pregnancy puts obvious strain on Sarita's marriage and she begins to distance herself from Reena and the unborn baby. At the same time, Reena's live-in girlfriend Lisa (Jill Hennessy) has commitment issues; babies never being part of her life equation.
For her first feature film, Ganatra shows much promise with her ability to blend the various issues at the film's heart without becoming over-sentimental about them. Madhur Jaffrey offers a surprisingly sparky comic turn as the doting mother trying to hold on to the values of her homeland. The script is loaded towards the inevitable happy ending, which feels far too easy and upbeat, leaving the audience with unanswered questions about the future of the child. Despite such reservations, Chutney Popcorn is a spicy look into the alternative family that's more substantial than just a simple side dish. --Nikki Disney
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The story is about two sisters, one in a lesbian relationship, and the other recently married. When the married sister discovers she cannot conceive, the lesbian sister agrees to be a surrogate. The film begins passably but around the mid-way point, the narrative of this story gets completely lost. It is not that the plot has been turned on its head or anything, simply that the film completely loses its way and no longer knows what its characters want. It's fine when the characters don't know themselves, but when the scriptwriter / director / actors all evidently have no idea what the motivations of anyone at all are nor what the point of the whole thing is, then it tends to be a lot less enjoyable for the viewer.
A major problem with the film, noted by most reviewers of "Chutney Popcorn", is Ganatra's shortcomings as an actress. It is patently obvious that she cannot act even the slightest bit. She should not have taken the lead role and her decision to do so fatally undermines the film. Playing opposite an actress as appealing and talented as Jill Hennessy, the lead character's love interest, makes Ganatra's "performance" all the more toe-curlingly awkward and embarrassing. It also destroys one of the central ideas in the film - that Ganatra's lover struggles to commit to her, perhaps something that is meant to make us feel sympathetic to Gantra's character. But when there is zero chemistry between this couple, we are bemused why the lover bothers to stay at all. Supposedly, the actress due to play the lead character dropped out shortly before filming and Ganatra stepped in to take the role herself, but she really should have called around a few casting agencies or something. I understand that acting is not Ganatra's calling, but on that basis, she should have ensured someone else was cast.
As it is, it is not only Ganatra's performance that ensures the film is a disappointment. "Chutney Popcorn" sounds great on paper and promises an exploration of so many intriguing themes, but the scene that made the most impression on me is one where another woman makes a pass at Hennessy's character, and whilst evidently tempted, she rejects the woman's advances. That is because this scene features the best acting in the entire film (from Hennessy). It is not part of the main plot and is presumably meant to just show us the character's difficulty with commitment. It is telling if a few seconds of subplot like that is the part of the film that has actually stayed with me.
All-in-all, a missed opportunity. It is worth noting for those viewers who check out "Chutney Popcorn" on the basis that it is categorised and marketed as a "lesbian" film that there is little enlightenment or entertainment to be found on that topic. I hope there is a film out there that will address similar themes to those attempted in "Chutney Popcorn" but that will do so with some verve, tenacity, spirit and meaning.
Reena (Nisha Ganatra), an artist of Indian descent, and Lisa (Jill Hennessey) are lovers, despite the fact that Reena's tradition bound Indian mother is in total denial. She is still trying to match Reena up with a member of the opposite sex, refusing to acknowledge Lisa as anything other than Reena's roommate.
When Sarita (Sakina Jeffrey), Reena's older sister gets married, she soon discovers that she is infertile. Reena offers to be a surrogate mom, and Sarita initially agrees. After some failed attempts through a fertility clinic, Reena, with the cooperation of Sarita's husband, Mitch, decides to get pregnant the old fashioned way, at home by using a turkey baster. She succeeds where the specialists failed.
Unfortunately, this causes problems with her relationship with Lisa, who is initially unable to come to terms with Reena's pregnancy and what it will mean to their relationship. Sarita is also having difficulty, changing her mind when it is too late to turn back. She sees the pregnancy as a reminder of her own failing and questions the impact that it will have on her life and marriage. Reena's and Sarita's mother, however, grasps the irony of the situation, and eventually comes to terms with it, as well as with the nature of Reena's and Lisa's relationship.
Nisha Ganatra should have concentrated on just directing this film, rather than acting in it, as she is no actress and is the weak link in the cast. Moreover, there appears to be little chemistry between her and Jill Hennessey, which does not help the film. There are, however, some very funny moments in this moderately entertaining film, having mostly to do with the character of the mother.
As a director Ms. Ganatra displays some promise. It is hoped that in the future she will concentrate on where her talents seem to lie.
It also marks a promising directing debut by Nisha Ganatra – hitherto noted for being a personal assistant to Tom Arnold and Roseanne Bar – who was forced to fill the lead role of Reena when here lead actress pulled out at the last possible moment.
Reena is a lesbian photographer whose happy relationship with blond Lisa (Jill Hennessy, of the television series Law and Order) is accepted albeit somewhat grudgingly and not without some chirping, by her 90% conservative mother, Meenu (played by a highly amusing Madhur Jaffrey).
The affair also cracks a nod from Reena’s more liberal older sister, Sarita (Sakina Jaffrey), who is married and trying to fall pregnant with husband Mitch (Nick Chinland).
When Sarita’s efforts to produce a baby fail, Reena steps in with an offer to carry the child for her sister. It is this that ultimately starts to upset everyone, not least of all Lisa, who is threatened by the possibilities opened by this decision, and of course Sarita, who is initially keen on the idea but then later cold shoulders it when it is already too late - and her marital relationship hits a wobbly patch.
All-in-all Chutney Popcorn is a heart-warming and sunny drama, raising its issues without the need to hammer them home and lacing them with loads of credible, incidental humour.