Chutney Popcorn and the L-bomb

I got so many hits the last few days  that maybe I should wait until the storm calms before I talk about this. I don’t want to get hate mail but it has been on my mind for quite a while. And I guess now is as good as ever to talk about it. Homosexuality in Indian film. Lesbians. The H & L-bomb. Incredibly explosive in India. Worst than discussing Pakistani/Indian relations.



I was just watching this very interesting movie  last night, Chutney Popcorn, from 1999, by Nisha Ganatra, starring Jill Hennessy, Nisha Ganatra and Madhur Jaffre.  It’s the story about Indian-American Reena and her girlfriend Lisa, a lesbian couple in NY. Reena becomes a surrogate mother for her sister, who learns she is infertile.  Complications arise when Reena’s sister changes her mind about wanting a child under these  circumstances at the time Reena detects she is pregnant. The mother, wonderfully played by Madhur Jaffre is trying to juggle traditional values and maintain them as good as she can while her belief system is being challenged by her non-conformist daughter.

I realized that the only other time I watched a movie about desi lesbian lovers was Deepa Mehta‘s Fire.  I bet she got flak for it. I wouldn’t be surprised. The only reason why it’s forgiven, probably,  is that both, Nisha as well as Deepa are considered NRIs. (which stands for Non-Resident-Indians)  I don’t know if there are any other movies out there touching this very delicate subject of homosexuality in Indian film.  Chutney Popcorn was  Nisha Ganatra’s directorial debut. She  produced, wrote, and directed this  courageous film.


here is what her mini biography on IMDb says:

Nisha Ganatra:

25 June 1974, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

Nisha Ganatra was born in Vancouver, Canada, and raised in California in a traditional household. Her father is an engineer, her mother a nurse; her parents immigrated to North America in the 1960s. Ganatra and her younger brother were expected, in typical Indian immigrant terms, to go to a medical or an engineering school. Instead, she went to film school.

Ganatra is a graduate of the prestigious New York University (NYU) film school, where she studied with Martin Scorcese, Barbara Kopple, and Spike Lee. Chutney Popcorn (1999) was her feature film debut.



How long  will it take India to accept non-traditional sexual orientations, without prejudice, stigma?  And then it’s to be seen, too, does  India ( or maybe just censorship India..) feel more threatened by homosexual behavior or lesbian? Why can’t there be an honest discussion about it?  Everything else gets discussed in India…

Karan Johar makes modest attempts and hints at non-traditional sexual orientations. Even now in Agneepath… where the Hijrah* community is briefly depicted, coming to the rescue of our hero Vijay in the final battle. Or in  Kal Ho Naa Ho, where the maid mistakes Aman and Rohit (played by Srk and Saif) as lovers, or in Dostana where two men pretend to be gay… It’s as if he wants to break the silence with sublety and with a certain sense of humor. Maybe it will stay that way and India is just not ready. Pretending is one thing, facing it another. And I agree, it’s a lot asked for in a country where sexuality is immensely private and showing a kiss on screen is a daring proposition.

But I feel almost as if the West gets blamed for wrongfully tolerating and accepting homosexuality and in India nothing of that kind exists.  We all know that’s absurd.  So, how will it be dealt with in the future? I wonder… actually I am waiting for the first Bollywood film powerful enough to provoke a serious discussion.  I guess part of the problem is that no one wants to jeopardize their career going there…. no actor, no director. They know that the impact could be such that they may never work again and the repercussions might affect them as well as their families.

( I guess I just  answered my own question..)



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