Chennai, 17 Jan 2021 22:01 IST
Without picking sides, the film quietly, in the most harrowing fashion, gives us a glimpse into the life of a married woman in India and her role in the kitchen.
Films questioning patriarchy are often criticized because many are made by men, and it is argued that rarely do they do justice to the subject. Jeo Baby’s The Great Indian Kitchen is an exception, one that questions the deep-rootedness of patriarchy in our society as realistically as possible without any gimmicks.
Without picking sides, the film quietly, in the most harrowing fashion, gives us a glimpse into the life of a married woman in India and her role in the kitchen. With each shot, The Great Indian Kitchen makes one squirm in one's seat and question how we treat women in our homes.
The film opens with a shot of Nimisha Sajayan in a dance class. We see that she is happy. It is something that brings her joy, evident from the smile on her face. These opening shots are cut with others of food being prepared in her home as the family gets ready to host the groom’s family.
A couple of scenes later, Nimisha is married and we see her in her husband’s house. As she gets used to the traditions of her new family, her life unfolds in the kitchen. What is eventually made to look like a household chore (which it isn’t) slowly turns into a nightmare, a grind from which there is no escape. As she grapples with the situation while trying to be the ideal wife and daughter-in-law, she starts to suffocate with nobody to her rescue.
Every time the movie shifts the camera on a woman character, we see her in the kitchen or attending to the men in the house. While the women toil and break their backs in the kitchen, the men are lazing around, scrolling through videos on WhatsApp and leaving food waste on the dining table for the women to clean up.
The film’s most beautiful but haunting shots take place in the kitchen. As the camera zooms in on the food being prepared, all one can think of is how lip-smackingly delicious it must be. But as the camera pans on the women preparing those dishes, working in the most horrible conditions, it comes as a stark reminder of the reality, of how patriarchy has enslaved women.
A lot of scenes take place in the kitchen. This is just to drive home the point that we have normalized women being in the kitchen, like it’s no big deal. Scenes are cut back and forth from kitchen to the bedroom. In one beautiful scene, Nimisha tells her husband that she would really appreciate some foreplay when they get intimate. The husband mocks her knowledge about foreplay and behaves as though it’s a crime for women to seek all that. There is a hard-hitting subplot about menstruation and we see how the family treats Nimisha during this phase. While the men in the house prepare themselves for a trip to Sabarimala and talk about purity; nobody is bothered about the women who slog to keep everything clean. In another powerful scene, the father-in-law tells Nimisha to drop her idea of applying for a job because he feels the job women do in the house is superior to what bureaucrats and ministers do.
Nimisha Sajayan is unbelievably convincing as the wife who struggles to adjust to the life dictated by men in her family. Her character and performance are so relatable you wonder if anyone else could have played her part any more aptly. As much as the film talks about patriarchy, it is also about those oppressed women who never question these male-governed traditions. The Great Indian Kitchen has to be the most powerful film on patriarchy in recent years and makes for a very important watch.
The Great Indian Kitchen is now available on Nee Stream.
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