Updated: January 21, 2021 7:51:39 pm
It is strongly believed that the fastest way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. And director Jeo Baby examines the flip side of this wisdom in his latest movie The Great Indian Kitchen. Going by the title, you may think that this film will put a magnifying glass on the mouth-watering traditional dishes of Kerala prepared in a household kitchen. And sure, the film will increase your food cravings with visuals of kappa (tapioca) biriyani, naadan fish curry coupled with fish fried in coconut oil, homemade banana chips, puttu and kadala curry, and masala black tea. But, this film is not about how cooking is an art that should be soaked in love, deep-fried in passion and garnished with a lot of care. It puts the focus on the laborious task that women undertake in households every day so that men can relish Kerala’s celebrated delicacies.
Remember how we argue that a mother’s food tastes better because it contains her undivided love? In a way, The Great Indian Kitchen calls the bluff on it. Have you ever thought about what happens when you leave the dining table after licking the plate clean and calling the food adipoli (excellent)? If the answer is a resounding, no, then this movie will serve a lot of food for your thoughts.
The film begins with a traditional big-fat wedding in Kerala. Two strangers are pushed into a long-term relationship through the institution of marriage. While the husband’s life and his everyday rituals go on without even a slight change, it is a different story for the new bride. Her life is uprooted completely. With marriage, she is sort of reborn and that means she has to cut the umbilical cord with her old life. She is good at dancing and wants to pursue it professionally. But can she? No, she can’t nurture that dream any longer as she cannot afford to think and act in ‘self-interest’ after marriage. Now, she has a bigger purpose in life. And that is to tend to every need of two fully grown adults.
Jeo Baby has not given names to the characters in the movie, including the newlywed bride (played by Nimisha Sajayan) and her husband, (played by Suraj Venjaramoodu). The events that unfold in the movie are not unique. The film talks about the culture of oppression and its traditional means that have been perfected over generations to keep the women subservient to men. The domestic slavery that Nimisha Sajayan’s character is subjected to is a common phenomenon across the majority of Indian households. On odd days, she is made to feel inferior and untouchable because she is menstruating. On even days, she is treated with passive contempt, including but not limited to threats of violence and righteous condemnation.
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The wife is so overwhelmed with the household chores that she is never allowed to open her mind to desires. She is also not allowed to think or have an opinion. In a way, the men in her family want to kill her mind, so she doesn’t crave for freedom or equality. Some women, in fact, enable this oppression without asking questions. They perform their womanly duties, day in and day out, with the discipline of a soldier as they are oblivious to the fact that they are also victims of the same oppression.
Jeo Baby has been unapologetically slow with the pace of the narration. And he does it with an intention to allow men to finally witness what happens inside the great Indian kitchens, where generation after generation, women slog and slave away their lives in service of entitled men. Every scene feels long because it is dense with storytelling. Narrative jolts are far and few in between. In The Great Indian Kitchen, we finally see, step-by-step, how a woman is stripped of her basic rights as a human being.
The Great Indian Kitchen is streaming on Neestream.
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