Since gender identities became more fliuid, womanhood has turned into a title that is now hoarded by cishet women as what's called 'the natural woman'. Meanwhile, the femininity of trans, genderqueer and gay women is questioned frequently out of ignorance. Add our ethnicity to the mix and the shrinking box of what a woman is becomes even tighter, leaning on marriage, childbirth and even physical appearances. It's a super tricky subject to even comprehend and yet in the 90s an independent film called Chutney Popcorn dove straight into it, with sitcom-style comedy.
Directed and co-written by Nisha Ganatra, the film is about Reena, an affable, wisecracking New York photographer and henna-tattoo artist whose queer sexuality troubles her traditionalist Punjabi mother that condescendingly calls it a 'disability'. Her elder sister Sarita is married to a sweet, feminine, American Guy with whom she's excited to have a family. The trouble begins when Sarita is found to be infertile and Reena impulsively decides to have a baby for her against her girlfriend Lisa's free-spirited, anti-bourgeois convictions.
As in any sitcom, beneath the surface of chaotic cheer, all the characters are ridden with stress — Reena with the pregnancy, Lisa, also with Reena's pregnancy, their mother who is distraught by the conditions under which all of this is happening and Sarita who is having a hard time accepting that her irresponsible gay sister can conceive a child but she can't. lluminating and contrasting the Indian and lesbian cultures, the film really cuts open the concept of womanhood onto the table for us to look at.
Chutney Popcorn is not particularly about being Indian or queer however, it does deftly bring those identities together in a delightful skirmish. The chain of events set off by Reena's decision to be pregnant is a real test for all the characters to reevaluate what they want. It captures the fluidity of identity and desires in an endearing, familial setting. Staying relevant as a story and as a genre decades later, the film is a poetic tribute to womanhood.
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