What do you get when you combine interracial romance, Indian traditions (not to mention cuisine), Bollywood glitz and the coming-out process? Openly lesbian filmmaker Pratibha Parmar’s happy-go-lucky lesbian love story, Nina’s Heavenly Delights.
The film, which opened in the United Kingdom this past September and screened in New York last month (talks are underway to secure U.S. distribution), centers on Nina Shah (Shelley Conn), a young Indian-Scottish woman. Nina has been estranged from her family and is living in London when she receives the unexpected news that her father has died. She rushes home, only to find she is too late for the funeral and stuck in the middle of a family crisis.
As her family berates her for leaving them in the lurch, Nina discovers that, in her absence, her father bet half-ownership of the family restaurant, the New Taj, on a horse race. Now it is half-owned by Lisa Mackinlay (Laura Fraser), who — in conjunction with Nina’s mother (Veena Sood) — is looking to sell the restaurant to a local rival.
This news breaks Nina’s heart; she grew up in the restaurant, learning to cook “from the heart” from her father, an award-winning chef. When she discovers that he had secretly entered the New Taj into Glasgow’s upcoming Best of the West curry competition, Nina grabs her chance to save the restaurant and keep the family dream alive.
But of course it’s not that simple. Nina must teach Lisa how to cook Indian food properly, which is no easy feat given the fact that Lisa thinks generic Indian takeaway is fantastically delicious. Adding to the conflict, Nina, a closeted lesbian, finds herself falling in love with Lisa, who happens to be dating Nina’s brother, Kary (Atta Yaqub).
In its most basic sense, Nina’s Heavenly Delights is like a lot of lesbian romantic comedies: One girl must win the other’s heart while dealing with a confrontational family and coming out of the closet. We’ve seen it many times before, from But I’m A Cheerleader to Imagine Me & You.
But Nina’s Heavenly Delights succeeds with this archetype, and the film personifies its catchphrase in many ways: "Ingredients don’t matter. It’s all about the heart."
The story line unfolds in a rather predictable fashion (warning: moderate spoilers to follow). Lisa and Nina eventually begin to date, though Nina’s phobia about coming out to her conservative, Indian family almost ruins the whole relationship. (Thankfully this isn’t Lost and Delirious: No lesbians were harmed in the making of this film.)