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Film Review: Nina’s Heavenly Delights (2006)

Nina's Heavenly Delights review

Writer/Director:  Pratibha Parmar

Country: UK

Cuisine: Indian set in Scotland

Film Rating 8/10

Foodie Rating 8/10

“Taste is in your heart. Always follow your heart.”

Culinary pleasure mixes with romantic pleasure in Nina’s Heavenly Delights, the title of which prefectly reflects its tone and theme.

Nina Shah (Shelley Conn) is coming home to Glasgow after three years having departed in circumstances that left her estranged from her family. But her beloved, enthusiastic and talented father has recently passed away and she has returned to attend his funeral. He was the head chef and owner of the family’s highly regarded restaurant The New Raj. It was highly regarded due to her father’s culinary prowess but unfortunately he wasn’t financially successful so the family find themselves having to deal with a severe case of austerity and crippling debt. Rival restaurant Jewel In The Crown have the finances to match their bourgeois appearance and clientele and, what’s more, they wish to buy out The New Raj. Nina is more than perturbed by that prospect, instead pledging to honour her father’s legacy by maintaining the premises, keeping the restaurant running and, more importantly, winning a substantial cash prize in a well-respected curry cooking competition. She is convinced that his superior recipes for amazing Indian cuisine will win the competition and solve the family’s debt problem. But, of course, there are a number of rival curry chefs, including the decadent and narcissistic chef of The Jewel In The Crown, Sanjay, who was meant to be Nina’s spouse, much to her chagrin. Instead she finds assistance – and romantic entanglement – with the delightful and talented Lisa MacKinlay (Laura Fraser), an old friend who now owns half of the restaurant. Together they master the details of this complex culinary artform and develop their understanding of taste. But there’s more than just the competition to be concerned about because how will family and the wider society accept romance in her life when they come from separate cultures?

“No sale ’til after the competition,” reflects Nina’s personal desire to make this grand plan work – before she discovers that it will become inextricably linked with her romantic one. This is a very much a masala movie with a blend of tasty spices to whet your appetite – it combines comedy and confrontation, romance and remorse, song and dance, cooking and eating as well some social commentary about the family retaining Indian cultural traditions within the context of living in Scotland.

Bollywood cinema is known for its exuberance and, in many ways, the themes in this film are straight from Bollywood – the initially hidden, often unexpected romances, as well as disagreements between the protagonists about how to resolve their issues within the context of social demands and family issues. Conflicts and love are narrative essentials, as are costume changes, songs and dance. Nina’s Heavenly Delights has all of these, and there’s even a reference to Bollywood in a video shop that has a poster of the classic Mother India just to emphasise the point. But, for all its charming twist on Bollywood conventions, Nina’s Heavenly Delights embraces East meets West in ways beyond the love of its two leads in its Glasgow setting. More Indian foody films are available including Jadoo Kings of Curry and Gurinder Chadha’s Bhaji on the Beach (1993), The Mistress of Spices (2005) and What’s Cooking? (2000) as well as many others.

As writer/director Pratibha Parmar said,”I wanted to write a love story where a young woman falls in love with another woman in a surprising way, when they least expect it. I wanted to set it in an Indian restaurant …”. This whole scenario takes the film to many lovely levels: what is better than food and love? Nina’s Heavenly Delights is, as its title suggests, heavenly and delightful. Low in budget but high on taste it’s a foodie romance that appeals to the romantic and, of course foodies everywhere.

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