The bad news – for me – was that Art Malik has only a supporting role in this film, so he’s not on screen enough. (And it’s already been established that he does not don a kilt.) Then again, the title is Nina’s Heavenly Delights, not Raj’s.
The good news for all of us is Nina’s Heavenly Delights gives us a chance to see a cross-section of the Indian diaspora (Scots desi !) not portrayed onscreen before, as far as I know. In fact, the only desi in the UK with any Scottish roots that I’ve encountered before is Raj Dhanda on the BBC Asian Network’s Film Cafe.
This first full-length feature – or, self-proclaimed urban fairytale – directed and produced by Pratibha Parmar is set in Glasgow and shows Nina Shah (Shelley Conn), the rebel child in the family, returning late for her father’s funeral. It’s her first time back in three years, after she bolted and left her groom-to-be at the altar. Her father was the owner and chef of The New Taj restaurant, which he left deep in debt and is now about to be sold.
Nina learned to cook at her father’s knee, and twice in the past they won the Best in the West curry competition.
Before allowing her family (mother, brother, and sister) to throw in the towel, she convinces them to hold off selling the restaurant until she can compete in the upcoming Best in the West competition one more time, and try for the hat trick her late Dad always dreamed of winning.
As the story progresses towards the final cook-off (televised on the local Korma TV channel and hosted by a lively British Asian man in a kilt), there is much cooking, eating and talk of love and following your heart in between.
Bobby and his bevvy of hunky Scots and Asian dancers prepare to try-out for the casting of the film Love in a Wet Climate, hurtling around town in his fabulously, colorfully illustrated van. Nina realizes awakening feelings toward Lisa, who seems permanently joined at the hip to her brother, and who Nina assumes is involved with him.
Concerned about causing her family any more grief, after having already abandoned a groom, Nina tries to tamp down any stirrings she has, and bumping into the object of her affections while cooking makes that more and more difficult. In fact, every Shah has secrets they’re keeping in order to spare family members’ feelings.
(Oh, and did I mention Nina’s teenage sister who loves highland dancing?)
Shelley Conn is delicious as Nina and has a glow about her that suits the sensuality of the film well. Ronny Jhutti’s Bobbi is such an engaging character on screen (as well as smart, sassy and supportive), that I would love to see a movie centred around him and his story. Same too for the understated Veena Sood as Nina’s mother. If there were a good vehicle for a story centred around a woman in her 40s, she would hold my interest for 90 minutes or more. As written for Parmar’s film, she is a nuanced woman who steers clear of the Sexy Aunty and Rhona Dhona, Hai-Hai-What-Did-I-Do-in-My-Past-Life Maa roles that woman are often squeezed into in other movies.
Even way up in grey and damp Glasgow, Bollywood’s emphasis is felt. Nina’s mother watches Mughal-e-Azam as the very fitting “Pyar Kiya to Darna Kiya” plays, Bobbi frolics to “Ina Mina Dika” in his video shop before an equally rapt audience of desi and non-desi toddlers, and there’s a big musical finale set to “Aap jaisa koi”.
See it or skip it?
See it. This is a perfect date movie, but be sure to have a favorite Indian restaurant in mind for dinner afterward, for, just as with Moonstruck, you’ll exit the theater ravenous for a meal like you’ve just seen prepared onscreen.
It’s sweet to see a film potray familial and community (Asian or otherwise) reaction to gay characters and interracial relationships so lovingly.
This film was screened Friday, November 3rd 2006 at the Indo-American Arts Council’s sixth film festival.