I was quite intrigued after reading much about the Malayalam movie The Great Indian Kitchen, directed by Jeo Baby since its release in early 2021. Last week, finally I had a chance to watch it, and I just felt the need to write down about this amazing movie – the best that I have watched in the last few months.
The movie is an attack on patriarchy and misogynism that goes on as normal and accepted in the guise of tradition. A newly married woman arrives at her marital home and the kitchen becomes her world. She chops vegetables, cooks meals, cleans the dishes, scrubs the floor, washes clothes, and puts away the waste. The men of the family spend time on their phones and practise yoga whilst the women toil hard in the heat of the kitchen and prepare food. The men are served food first, the women eat the leftovers. The men eat spilling food all over the dining table, and the women clean after them. The mother-in-law has to hand over the tooth brush to the father-in-law in the morning, and also keeps his shoes right in front of him every time he steps out.
Now the woman wishes to work, she is educated, has a training in classical dance and wants to be dance teacher. However, the men of the house strongly oppose her decision to work. Though her mother-in-law tells her to apply for the job, she is perhaps not sure her opinion matters. It is revealed later in the movie that despite being a post graduate, she was forced by her husband and her father-in-law not to work. The family glorifies the sacrifice of a woman’s career as something great and regards their staying at home as auspicious for the family.
Menstruation is a taboo in the family, for the days that the woman menstruates, she is considered impure, she cannot enter the kitchen, serve food, or do the chores; she just has to stay confined in a small room in the house. The movie has also referred to the issue of women entering Sabarimala Temple. The woman shares a video on social media in support of women and this again is met with condemnation by her husband.
The husband rapes the woman every night. It is sad and shocking yet true that marital rape is hardly considered as a legal offence in India. A husband raping his own wife is a grave form of domestic violence, but it is hardly accounted for with the seriousness that it needs to be addressed with.
The Great Indian Kitchen also highlights the fragile nature of male ego. A large number of men delight in putting the women in their lives down, sometimes by trying to control them, at times by ridiculing them and at other times by hurting them through words and actions. They try their best to feed their own ego not by rising high but by treating women as doormats.
The futility of rituals and traditions that aim at stating male supremacy and dominance in the society has been subtly hinted at in the movie. The husband takes a vow of abstinence to go on a pilgrimage to the temple, and for that he blindly adheres to all the rigid customs and rituals that are actually baseless.
When the woman has a complete breakdown towards the end of the movie, and she is charged by her husband and father-in-law, she throws the dirty kitchen water at them and walks out of the house. She goes to her parents’ house, where her mother criticises her decision. Yet she stands firm on it and soon after becomes a dance teacher.
Talking about the technical aspects of the movie, the camera angles, the different frames, the background noises, the detailed sounds and the typical settings of the film all of these render it simply outstanding. They make the plot all the more convincing and the theme a compelling one. When the woman finally leaves the house in the movie, I could find an echo from Henrik Ibsen’s much talked about play ‘A Doll’s House’.
The movie as the name indicates is all about the kitchen, a regular Indian kitchen with a cooking space, a kitchen sink to wash dishes, a space to put in the kitchen waste. This whole space in the house is somehow entirely the world of the women of the house. The men do not belong here. This is the story of most Indian households, the men work at regular jobs and the women deal with the rest of the things which unfortunately is a lot – the cooking, cleaning, washing, taking care of children and taking orders from the men, and if she has a job, she manages it along with all these chores and responsibilities. Generations of men have grown up believing that male supremacy is normal. Now, it is time for women to change this idea by voicing themselves, standing up against abuse and violence, leaving bad marriages and choosing self-respect, independence and empowerment. This is what The Great Indian Kitchen speaks out aloud.
The Great Indian Kitchen is on Amazon Prime now! Please do watch it.