Anywhere there's a curry house, it seems, there's an East-West culture-clash comedy waiting to be made. Director Pratibha Parmar and writer Andrea Gibb's Nina's Heavenly Delights is set in Glasgow, Scotland (far from the London environs typical to this genre), and throws lesbianism into an otherwise standard masala mix of Anglo-Indian themes.
London-based Nina (Shelley Conn) returns to Glasgow for her father's funeral and discovers that the family's curry house is about to be sold off in a bet that her father lost just before he passed away. What's more, the beneficiaries of the bet happen to be the owners of a rival curry house. Nina harbors great affection not just for the family business but for memories of her father teaching her the subtleties of Indian cooking when she was a young girl. Impulsively, and against the wishes of her mother, Nina decides to enter a nationally televised curry cook-off—competing, of course, against her curry-house rivals—in a bid to win back their family restaurant.
The story kicks into gear when Nina falls for her cooking partner, Lisa (Laura Fraser), who happens to be attached to Nina's brother Kary (Atta Yaqub). Lisa, likewise, fancies Nina, just as the true nature of Lisa and Kary's relationship comes clattering out of the closet. Certainly, every character in Delights is trapped behind a closet of their own making, even the dead father who kept a gambling addiction from his family and Nina's mother (Veena Sood), who nurses grievances over her marriage that she now inflicts upon her children.
For fear of motherly ostracism, Nina keeps her relationship with Lisa under wraps, much to Lisa's chagrin. That these two have their moment of truth during the third-act cook-off, in front of Mother, is as predictable as the indigestion after too much channa masala. Attached to this plotting is the inclusion of a typically fabulous gay sidekick Bobbi (Ronny Jhutti), one of Nina's confidantes and an aspiring Bollywood dancing queen. Bobbi's function is to add some flair and fun, but, at best, he's a harmless, endearing adjunct, thanks to Parmar and Gibb's clichéd characterization of the "flamy cross-dresser."
Indeed, the whole of Nina's Fabulous Delights is a by-the-numbers spin through the old-new culture-clash program, as characters confront their true feelings against the strictures of family tradition. Parmar scores pleasant performances across the board—particularly from the appealing Conn—and there's ample enticing imagery of Indian cooking. Yet the story is bland, like it's been over-workshopped in a screenwriting class, too polite and too smooth around the edges. The most tantalizing thing about Parmar's lesbianism-laced comedy is the title, but the rest of it is too well-behaved lest it offend any stodgy Indian grandmothers in the audience.
Cast: Shelley Conn, Laura Fraser, Ronny Jhutti, Art Malik, Raji James, Veena Sood, Raad Rawi, Atta Yaqub, Zoe Henretty, Rita Wolf and Francisco Bosch
Director: Pratibha Parmar
Screenwriter: Andrea Gibb
Producers: Chris Atkins, Pratibha Parmar and Marion Pilowsky
Rating: PG-13 for some sexual content
Running time: 95 min.
Release date: November 21, 2007 LA, November 30 NY, December exp.