Out and About
13th Annual Austin Gay & Lesbian International Film Festival
Chutney Popcorn: Light, Crunchy, Salty
Homophobia, infertility, and immigration aren't exactly considered the funniest topics, but director Nisha Ganatra hopes to change that with her debut film, Chutney Popcorn. Ganatra, who also wrote and stars in the film, wants audiences to know that a film with a light, comic touch can say volumes more than the standard, heavy-handed message movie. Her commitment to keeping things fun can be found in the film's title, a reference to the lightweight "popcorn movie" of Hollywood yore mixed with an ethnic flavor, a combination of the familiar and the new. "The title Chutney Popcorn is my way of tipping people off that the film will be an entertaining, funny movie first and foremost," Ganatra says. "If people hear it's about lesbians and motherhood, they'll think it's really issue-oriented, but I want people to know that they're not going to be beaten over the head with some sort of message."
But don't mistake Popcorn for just a breezy independent comedy. This intriguing and unpredictable film examines the lives of an Indian-American family torn apart by an elder daughter's inability to conceive with her American-born husband. Ganatra stars as the younger (and gay) sister Reena, a motorcycle-riding, free-spirited photographer who volunteers to become a surrogate mother for her sister. Complicating matters is Reena's mother (culinary whiz Madhur Jaffrey), a traditional (and very witty) first-generation immigrant who hasn't accepted her daughter's relationship with her girlfriend (played by former Law & Order star Jill Hennessy) or her unconventional decision to become a surrogate parent. While covering the many tangles and snags of a modern family, Ganatra also examines how immigration affects them.
"Chutney Popcorn expresses the feeling of being ethnic enough to not feel American and American enough not to feel at home in the country your parents are from," Ganatra explains, noting that while some of the customs and rituals performed in the film might be unfamiliar to many, they nonetheless reveal the spiritual bond between mothers and their children that is part of every culture. "People were afraid of this movie because they thought it was about Indian-Americans and lesbians and that no one would be able to relate to it," Ganatra says. "But I found that the more specific you are about someone else's experience, the more universal the message is. I don't want to underestimate the audience's intelligence."
Chutney Popcorn finds humor in the unexpected ("Just because I'm pregnant doesn't mean I'm not a big ol' dyke still!" Reena jokes at one point in the film), tweaks a familiar formula fraught, and takes on issues fraught with controversy to provide an experience that's equal parts comedic (check out the conception-with-turkey baster scene) and dramatic. Says Ganatra: "It's really about a sister not being able to have a baby and how her family stays together, and also how sometimes our moms are a pain in the ass!"
Chutney Popcorn screens Saturday, Sept. 2, 7:30pm, Arbor.