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Chutney Popcorn

     There's no more distressing proof of the increasing caution (cowardice?) of independent distribution than to realize that Chutney Popcorn, written and directed by, and starring a talented ex-NYUer, Nisha Gantra, is on its own. Can their be a cuter dyke comedy than this one, which keeps its lesbian-community integrity (heaps of "in" jokes) while coming out with a sincerely feel-good story with almost mainstream appeal.

     Gantra plays Reena, an Indian-American who lives happily alternatively in NYC with her model-like girfriend, Lisa (Law and Order's Jill Hennessy), and makes a living taking sensual photographs of henna-tattoed women. Her Lillith Fair-like equilibrium is smashed when accused of being a selfish person. She determines to do an unselfish act: have a baby for her newly married, unhappily barren sister, Sarita (Sakina Jaffrey). But her altruism comes with consequences: Sarita doesn't want a child that way, and using her husband's sperm. Sarita is jealous. Reena's companion, Lisa, isn't thrilled either to have to help with the impregnation (the famous "turkey baster" scene) or to be about for Reena's bumpy nine months. Has flaky Reena acted egotistically again?

     The situation comedy is handled deftly, and there's a scene-stealing performance by Indian actress, Madhur Jaffrey, as Reena's mom. But Gantra is fine too in the lead, charmingly unkempt and winning in jeans and a t-shirt, an anti-model role model of an indie protagonist.

(October, 2000)


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