Nina's Heavenly Delights Review
A decade ago, The Sun was in something of a flap over gay men in prominent positions. First of all it was the 'pulpit poofs' of the Church Of England, which concern their distaste for gay clergy. Then they picked a Saturday night fight with Elton John, accusing him of using rent boys. Who didn't cheer when The Sun received a very public thrashing courtesy of John's lawyers? Finally, in the first year of Blair's government, they demanded to know the sexual orientation of front bench ministers, fearing that we might have been under the rule of a gay mafia. If The Sun ever heads to Glasgow for an evening in a curry house, they will, if Nina's Heavenly Delights is to be believed, be needing the services of ladies with fans and the none-stronger smelling salts favoured by boxing trainers so much do the cast rush to come out. For the rest of us, what we have is a quiet romantic comedy punctuated by some willful moments starring the drag queens of Bollywood.
Shelley Conn stars as Nina Shah, who opens the film as a young girl in the kitchen of the restaurant run by her father. There, in between crushing spices and marinating meats in rich sauces, her father tells her that, whatever else, she must followed her heart. No matter the recipe, no one will appreciate the flavour of the food if the cook's love for food is not suffused within it. As she readies meals with her father, Nina learns from him and, with a careful hand, writes out his recipes in a notebook that she carries with her.
Years later, Nina's father dies and having been estranged from her family for some time, receives word from her friend Bobbi (Ronny Jhutti) and returns home. Arriving in Bobbi's psychedelic camper van, Nina is late for the funeral but thinks that she sees the ghost of her father still lingering around the temple. Later, she visits the restaurant that he owned, The New Taj, and busies herself in the kitchen alongside her ex-boyfriend, Sanjay (Raji James). As the guests leave, Nina begins looking through the paperwork, finding that her father had bet everything, including The New Raj, on winning the Best Of The West, a competition for curry houses in the west of Scotland. Taking down her notebook from where she had left it, Nina begins noting down recipes and planning her menu for the competition. But with precious little time in the kitchen other than those days she spent there as a child, she knows that she enters the Best Of The West as the outsider. Moreso when Lisa (Laura Fraser) enters her life and finds that love is coming between her and the competition. But then she remembers what her father once taught her...
Everything in Nina's Heavenly Delights is in the description above and there are very few surprises contained elsewhere within the film. The suggestion is that it Nina's sexuality that forced her estrangement from her father and it is this that she must confront on her returning home, not least her meeting Laura and finding that she's falling in love. But in contrast to the kind of food being served in The New Taj, there is little that's spicy in Nina's Heavenly Delights. PG-rated, there are only fleeting kisses and even Bobbi, who would be a riot of bitchiness and putdowns in another film particularly when surrounded by his gay backing dancers, is toned down to suit the material. Even the subplots are rather safe with Nina's sister coming out in a manner of her own, leaving it late in the day to tell her mother that she goes to a Highland Dancing class while her brother, who secretly married a white woman prior to the death of his father, leaves it until the Best Of The West to introduce his wife to his family. As for the competition itself, there are few surprises in it and though it might not go entirely Nina's way, the film ends on a high note nonetheless.
In spite of these complaints, it is a nice watch, being an undemanding hour-and-a-half that is good-natured, has more than a few decent jokes and contains some lovely scenes, not least Bobbi's efforts to get into Bollywood movies and Nina's cooking in the kitchen of The New Taj. Like last year's Driving Lessons and, long before that, Bill Forsyth's Local Hero and Gregory's Girl, Nina's Heavenly Delights is a feelgood film that features a British setting, love affairs and secrets and a happy ending. There isn't a single surprise in it but it's a very pleasant way to spend an evening. All the better, though, had it been broadcast on television, something that, rather than DVD, it's much better suited to.
Presented in 1.78:1, which is likely to be the film's original aspect ratio given that it probably had more of an eye on a DVD release than any success in the cinemas, Nina's Heavenly Delights looks decent but the very occasional moments of rich colour are few and far between the everyday sight of grey Glasgow skies. However, the film does come to life at times and looks very good when doing so but, more often than not, it looks very ordinary. The quality of the film on DVD is little different, being fine for most of the ninety-one minute running time but rarely more than that. The English DD2.0 is much the same, sounding clean and generally very clear but letting the dialogue sound muffled at times. Much of this is, one feels, down to the limitations of the budget - this doesn't look very much different to a midweek feature produced by the BBC - but so long as one isn't looking for a particularly stylish feature, Nina's Heavenly Delights is fine.
The only bonus material on the DVD is a Trailer (1m36s).