‘Chutney Popcorn’ Reimagines Family and Motherhood

Nisha Ganatra’s 1999 film about a lesbian artist who becomes a surrogate for her sister remains ahead of its time.

Priya Arora

June 17, 2022

‘Chutney Popcorn’ Reimagines Family and Motherhood
Jill Hennessy and Nisha Ganatra in 'Chutney Popcorn' (1999)

In an early scene of Chutney Popcorn (1999), Reena (Nisha Ganatra) holds her camera as she watches the crowd dance at her sister Sarita’s (Sakina Jaffrey) wedding. Her mother (Madhur Jaffrey) has already refused to call her girlfriend anything more than a roommate, and even said it would be better if she left. Reena, clutching to the joyous celebration she sees in front of her, pauses in front of the dance floor as she realizes that her family could never celebrate her relationship this way.

“Beti, why do you make your life so much harder?” her mom asks Reena. “I want you to be happy, like Sariya [a nickname for Sarita].” Her mom presses on: “I want grandchildren. Are you too selfish to give me that?”

“Mom, I’m a lesbian. I’m not sterile,” Reena quips back. The zinger foreshadows the critical premise of the 92-minute film: what does it mean to be a queer mother? Far ahead of its time, Chutney Popcorn pushed audiences to reckon with how we define family, womanhood, and motherhood — all while shattering assumptions of what it means to be lesbian.