Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

Popcorn Confidential

Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

Popcorn Confidential

Article excerpt

Chutney Popcorn director-star Nisha Ganatra gets honest about filmmaking, love scenes, and showing the movie to Mom

Six years ago aspiring actor Nisha Ganatra was slugging it out in Los Angeles, choosing from the five-line parts she was offered--always as a Latina, always in gangster flicks. "I remember thinking, The best way to change the roles I'm playing is to create my own material," says the 27-year-old Indian-American.

So she moved to New York, enrolled in NYU's film school, and while studying there wrote and shot Junky Punky Girlz, a 16-millimeter short that became a festival favorite. Ganatra, who had never directed before, "fell totally in love with being behind the camera." She then met fellow student Susan Carnival, and the two cowrote what is now Ganatra's debut feature, Chutney Popcorn. The 90-minute film follows Reena, an Indian-American photographer who's busy juggling a very traditional family, an emotionally shut-down girlfriend, and a newly married sister who finds that she is infertile.

The movie, which has already won many filmfest awards, debuts June 9 on TV's Sundance Channel. (It will also be shown at the New York Gay and Lesbian Film Festival.) Its innovative plot bypasses the done-to-death coming-out tale in favor of focusing on Reena's quest to save her straight sister's crumbling marriage by having a baby for her. The heartfelt dialogue tackles numerous complexities, including two-mommy families, society's demonizing of women who choose not to be mothers, and the mirthful clashing of old-world Hindus and urban dykes.

When Ganatra was ready to begin production on the feature, which was funded in part by Robert De Niro's Tribeca Productions, she found the perfect person to play Reena's girlfriend when she locked eyes with Jill Hennessy (TV's Law and Order) at an industry party in Manhattan. "After ten minutes of talking to her, I thought, Wow, she is exactly like this character: Her role on the show [as Claire Kincaid] was so rigid mid serious, and in real life she's really very funny and sweet."

But when the lead actress slated to play Reena backed out al. the eleventh hour. Hennessy suggested that Ginatra play opposite her in the Reena role. "I told her. `Nish, we've got chemistry, babe. Don't fight it.'" remembers Hennessy.

The fledgling director "was really nervous about it. I didn't want to be the sleazy director who suddenly decides. …

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