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Annapurna: Goddess Of Food review – Forgotten history of the pioneering khanawalis of Mumbai

Release Date: 25 Sep 1995 / 25min

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Sonal Pandya

Directed by Paromita Vohra and T Jayashree, the 1995 short documentary shines a light on the Annapurna Mahila Mandal and shows how it forged a path of independence for many women.

In Mumbai, the story of the dabbawalas is quite famous, even attracting the attention of the English royal family. But while the story of the men who deliver food to the city's office goers is well known, not much is said about the women who slave away in the kitchens to prepare the aforementioned food.

The 1995 short documentary Annapurna: Goddess Of Food details the history of the Annapurna Mahila Mandal by showcasing the founders and various women who run a successful business where female chefs prepared meals for workers.

One such woman is Shashikala Chorge, a widow who runs her foods service for workers from her home. Practically her whole day goes in preparing food for 30-odd individuals, but it’s an honest day’s work and Chorge usually earns well.

Back then, the khanawalis, as they were called, used to prepare meals for textile mill workers. With the city's once-iconic mills now shut, the short film serves as more of a historical document on how things ran once. Originally, there were around 45,000 female textile workers who had nowhere to go after a law, which granted them three months of maternity leave, came into force.

With mill owners opting not to hire women, whom they saw as a liability, the latter turned to the kitchen, cooking meals for the men, and thus a new business was born. Annapurna: Goddess Of Food then delves into how the cooperative organization later empowered these women by helping them obtain bank loans. It also opened a shelter for women in need; there too they cooked food to generate some income.

The mandal is mostly made up of Maharashtrian women and the documentary serves as a nostalgic time capsule of a bygone era. In the nearly three decades since then, both the city of Mumbai and its people have undergone drastic changes in terms of both lifestyle and technology. Co-directors Vohra and Jayashree have preserved a piece of history.

Oscar-winner Resul Pookutty has also worked on the sound for Annapurna: Goddess Of Food.

Annapurna: Goddess Of Food was screened as part of the Community and Sustenance section of the Rising Gardens Film Festival, which was held from 12-15 March 2021.


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