January 26, 2021 11:53:59 am
“Kitchen is actually hell”, says Jeo Baby, the director behind critically-acclaimed Malayalam film The Great Indian Kitchen, where he explores the insidious nature of patriarchy that chains women to backbreaking but thankless routine of household chores.
Baby said after his marriage, he spent some time in the kitchen and realised how hard the work was and he started thinking about the women who have no escape from cooking.
“After my marriage, I spent a lot of time in the kitchen and I felt that the kitchen was hell. I thought of women and how they don’t have a lot of chances. For their entire life, they are stuck in the kitchen and other household activities,” the filmmaker told PTI over phone.
Jeo Baby, known for films like Kunju Daivam and 2 Penkuttikal, said he started discussing the idea of how kitchens serve the basis for the project with the women around him, his wife Beena, his cousins and women friends.
What transpired was a flood of stories of discrimination of varying kinds, inspiring the many details and nuances of The Great Indian Kitchen.
The film, available on the streaming platform Neestream, has received heartwarming reviews not just from critics and fans but also from people close to Baby, especially women.
“They say that the film has touched their heart. I have so many messages in my inbox from women who have liked the film,” the filmmaker, who hails from Thalanad, Kerala, said.
The story of The Great Indian Kitchen revolves around a nameless newlywed couple, played by Nimisha Sajayan and Suraj Venjaramoodu.
The wife is a dance enthusiast but post marriage her life is spent in cooking and cleaning while the husband, a teacher, spends his free time doing yoga, appearing at the dinner table expecting a nice meal.
The father-in-law (played by T Suresh Babu) is the other entitled male of the house, who can’t even brush his teeth without his wife handing him a brush with toothpaste.
“It’s only the privilege for the men that the tea will always come to them. Haven’t we seen that in every home?” the director asked rhetorically when asked about depicting the entitled Indian men in the film.
What the movie shows is nothing new, said Jeo Baby on his decision to not name the protagonists.
“There are no names for the characters because I generalised them. They are everywhere in the society, in our houses and around us. We can see discrimination against women everywhere in our society. It is not just limited to the kitchen but it begins from our homes, this is why I focused on this,” he said.
The director believes women grow up on stories about what the “responsibility of a good woman” is, internalising the patriarchy.
He said, “Women don’t see they are in trouble and are part of the system. They are not aware (of) what they are doing. They think it is the responsibility of a good woman. They keep hearing these stories in their childhood. Through this film, I want to convey that women need freedom in the house as well as outside. They have the same rights as men. That’s the message but it is not really a message. If anyone is struggling with something, they have to get out of that.”
Jeo Baby said a lot of men around him were surprised how he stood by the women in the film.
“Like I said, the kitchen is like hell. A lot of these stories came from the women. I think The Great Indian Kitchen is the lighter version of the women’s issues,” he added.
Though the story is largely focused on one household, it also deals with the politics around the entry of women in Sabarimala Temple, Kerala. The film further delves into the stigma surrounding menstruating women, who are barred from entering the kitchen. The discrimination ironically providing them respite from work.
The Supreme Court, by a majority verdict of 4:1, on September 28, 2018, had lifted the ban that prevented women and girls between the age of 10 and 50 from entering the famous Ayyappa shrine in Kerala and held that the centuries-old Hindu religious practice was illegal and unconstitutional.
“In 2018, the Supreme Court’s order came but even after that some political parties… we know how they reacted to the order and they did not allow women (in)to Sabarimala and they want women to be confined to their homes. They won’t allow this kind of freedom. It is related to women’s rights, menstruation and everything begins from the house. This is why it’s in my film,” he explained.
Asked whether he faced any issues for including a politically contentious topic like Sabarimala ban of women of menstruating age, Baby said, “I did not face any issue directly. There is some discussion on social media and television. But if there is an issue and I spot that I will tell that story without any hesitation.”
In his own words, Jeo Baby is currently “idle”.
“I’m not thinking about my next film and just enjoying the success of The Great Indian Kitchen”, he said.
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