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Womb Service

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 29, 2000


    Chutney Popcorn Jill Hennessy, Nisha Ganatra and Cara Buono in the complex but lighthearted "Chutney Popcorn."
(Sergio Bonilla/Mata Production)
All Reena wants to do is take photographs, enjoy her love life and get along with the family, pretty much in that order.

But this is only half the story. In "Chutney Popcorn," Reena (played by Nisha Ganatra, also the director and co-writer) is a lesbian from India with a pushy mother (Madhur Jaffrey) who considers Reena's sexuality a "disability," and who keeps trying to set her up with male suitors.

There's another twist. Reena's heterosexual sister, Sarita (Sakina Jaffrey), who has just married Mitch (Nick Chinlund), discovers she's infertile. So Reena – who has been heavily criticized by her mother, sister and girlfriend Lisa (Jill Hennessy) for her self-absorption – volunteers to act as a surrogate.

Much levity is derived from Reena's use of a kitchen implement to become pregnant. But Ganatra and co-writer Susan Carnival don't get too goofy about it. Although this is clearly a first-time film, they deal with a complex subject openly, thoroughly and lightheartedly.

And, to their credit, they do come up with some narrative surprises. Although Sarita initially agrees to go along with the surrogate-mother idea, it's she who undergoes a change of heart – especially when her husband and Reena become a little too involved in the project.

Usually, in surrogate stories like this, the birth mother decides at the last minute to keep the kid and the adoptive parents have a big emotional fight on their hands. But in "Chutney," which won Best Feature at the San Francisco Gay & Lesbian and Newport International film festivals, Reena learns quickly enough that she's probably going all the way with this motherhood thing. She never changes course.

As Reena's mother, Madhur Jaffrey, who has appeared in many a Merchant/Ivory film, takes charge of her archetypal role and gives the movie much-needed heft. Ganatra, who made a short film called "Junky Punky Girlz" before this, is obviously comfortable in front of the camera, as is Hennessy. And if "Chutney" gets a little bogged down in transition hell (there are a few too many music-driven montages during Reena's pregnancy), its easygoing, disarming air will endear it to its target audience, who will appreciate this movie as much for the lifestyle it depicts as its actual story.

Director Ganatra will introduce the 7 p.m Friday show at 6:45 and answer questions afterward. Admission for this show is $10. Call 202-939-0378.

CHUTNEY POPCORN (Unrated, 100 minutes)Contains sexual situations, graphic language and a lot of detail in the sperm bank. At Visions Cinema/Bistro.


Copyright 2000 The Washington Post Company

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