NINA'S HEAVENLY DELIGHTSPG-13
Sweet but slight, with a TV-movie aesthetic, unsuspenseful stakes, and a romance so low-intensity it wouldn't heat up the lamb dish our heroine serves in a cooking competition, this U.K. dramedy of love with the proper lesbian is insubstantial and predictable. The filmmaker's heartbreaking journey to get Nina’s Heavenly Delights made is actually a more remarkable and inspiring story of the triumph of the human spirit, but unfortunately, that's not what we're here to review.
Nina Shah (Shelley Conn) is a lovely young Indian woman from Glasgow who three years before had left her fiancé Sanjay (Raji James) at the altar. Working as a cook in London, she's barely been in touch with her family who, despite being humiliated by her bolting, seem nonetheless to have a plethora of friends in their tight-knit Scottish-Indian community, which pretty much accepts Nina back in when she returns for her father's funeral. Even chef Sanjay has turned up to cook for the mourners afterward, out of respect for Nina's mom Suman (Veena Sood).
The departed Mohan (Raad Rawi) had owned a well-regarded Indian restaurant, The New Taj, but as Nina's brother Kary (Atta Yaqub) informs the prodigal daughter, Dad gambled away half of it to the father of one of Nina's childhood friends. Now that old friend, Lisa (Laura Fraser), plans to go along with Kary and Suman's plan to sell the place to genial rival restaurateur Raj (Art Malik), Sanjay's father. But when Nina learns that dad had made it into the finals of the “Best of the West” Curry Competition, which he'd won two years running, she convinces Lisa to go for the three-peat—which the smitten, moon-eyed Lisa does for reasons that have nothing to do with chicken vindaloo.
As the young ladies' low-wattage romance progresses with the propriety of Queen Victoria, we meet Nina's standard-issue, flamboyant gay-best-friend, Bobbi (Ronny Jhutti), and standard-issue younger-sister-with-a-wacky-dream, Scottish folk-dancer Priya (Zoe Henretty). And we take a tour of Glasgow dance clubs and other environs where Bobbi's all-male dance quartet is a hit with gays and straights alike. There's apparently not a homophobic skinhead anywhere between there and Edinburgh, but that's fine—seeing Bobbi bashed would have been just one more cliché in the parade, where "Follow your heart," in those exact words, keeps getting repeated as the unabashed, bald-faced theme.
Much of the film hinges on Nina fearing her mother's disapproval for being gay, but director Pratibha Parmar, a lesbian woman of color, doesn't suggest a single meaningful consequence of this except for the possibility of mom going "tsk tsk." Nothing feels at stake, and Glasgow comes across as the most tolerant and diverse city this side of Shangri-La. It's a lovely ideal, and the food dishes are photographed scrumptiously, but the whole thing comes off undercooked.