by guest contributor Manish, originally published at Ultrabrown
Nina’s Heavenly Delights is the latest badly-written desi flick to hit enough recognizable truths about the diaspora that it’s fun in spite of itself. It’s a Glaswegian lesbian romance interpreted chastely, as if for kids. The female leads nuzzle and kiss without tongue, lest director Pratibha Parmar offend the focus group, while the drag queens camp and vamp to stereotype but are never permitted to smooch on screen. FSM save gays and lesbians from friendly filmmakers.
The problem with gay, desi, and gay desi flicks is that they’re made out of a crying need for representation, but neither ‘boon’ automatically makes one a good director. Nina’s is infested with clichés, begins with a spice metaphor, and ganks not only the ghostly chef from Ratatouille, but also the spirit guide from the atrocious Touch of Pink (Jimi Mistry, Kyle MacLachlan). It rings false and fantastical, with the most understanding desi mom ever written into film. But it leans on an indie soundtrack and a cinematographer who loves slow pans and tilts. Save for a tacky Taj Mahal model-slash-heartlight, it’s not as obviously amateur as Flavors.
Shelley Conn, great niece of stealth desi Merle Oberon, is taller with darker skin than her white love interest. She’s the top in this film, which is unusual for gay desi flicks. (Daniel Day-Lewis’ tomahawk cheekbones were clearly dom in My Beautiful Laundrette.) The plot is yet another battle-of-the-bands exercise, a ‘curry competition’ helmed at last by the great Kulvinder Ghir (Goodness Gracious Me) in burr, kilt and rabbits’ feet. The movie’s relentless focus on Indian food makes it more commercial, as does the lesbian angle; knowing her mainstream, Parmar let the girls get to first base, while any guy-on-guy takes place off-screen. It’s not that one wants to see Ronny Jhutti (Rafta Rafta) get it on — not that there’s anything wrong with that — it’s that it’s a blatant double standard, genuflecting in the direction of heteronormative marketability.
This movie was made earlier with more wit and bite as East is East, which too made great use of Jhutti and Raji James. But its ending video sequence has queens, twinks, brown highland dancers and white Bollyornaments naachofying to Briton Nazia Hassan’s classic ‘Aap Jaisa Koi.’ If you enjoyed Rocky the drag queen’s camp performance in Bollywood/Hollywood, you’ll have fun with this. And Shelley Conn (and Atta Yaqub) aren’t exactly hard on the eyes.