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‘The Great Indian Kitchen’: Breaking The Circle Of Male Entitlement

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As the International Women’s Day was approaching, I was itching to write about women’s plight in our society. In the midst of my brainstorming, I stumbled upon a very interesting movie trailer on YouTube, called, The Great India Kitchen. The cover lacked the glossy, shiny Bollywood stars. Instead, I saw some nameless (at least in Pakistan) faces on the cover. Yet I thought of checking it out anyway. For 2 minutes, I was engrossed in the trailer. It piqued my interest and hence I watched this Malayalam movie with English subtitles.  

The movie is a depiction of an Indian woman’s place in a society. How a woman is an inferior citizen in a society and how she isn wired to serve the man in her life, be it a brother or a husband or a father-in-law. It tells us how seamlessly the patriarchy and male entitlement are embedded in Indian culture. The movie takes us into the world of domestic submission, where day in and day out the woman of the house is engulfed in the whirlpool of mundane but rigorous tasks of cooking, cleaning, washing right from the scratch. How she’s stressed to deliver the food with utmost perfection which is defined by the ingredients be crushed by hand and food cooked fresh every day. 

While the women of the house work in perfect synergy to prep and serve the food through a well oiled mechanism, the men of the family, on the other hand are shown to eat with sheer callousness and indecency. They sit and eat like a king leaving the tables dirty with spilled and leftover food. They don’t even have the concept of waiting for the women of the house to join them for meals. They finish their meals and don’t even consider leaving a cleaner table and then the women sit and eat. They can’t even comprehend to offer help in the domestic chores nor do they acknowledge or appreciate the physical household chores performed by the women of the house.

The movie tells us how a young girl marries with dreams of love, care and desirability. How she’s in love with the idea of being in love with a husband. So the protagonist of the movie walks into a marriage as the new bride and lovingly embraces the domesticity in her new home. She’s the girl of today, modern, educated yet eastern and shy enough to respect the centuries old patriarchy entrusted in Indian culture. Dutifully, she obeys all the directions by her father-in law which entail washing his clothes by hand instead of a washing machine, crushing ingredients by hand instead of a food processor.

She also resists the urge to voice her right when her father in law forbids her to work. See, all these are seamless acts of patriarchy and this level of control is so embedded in the name of culture, respect and in-laws etiquette that a woman is trapped so deep to fight it off. That’s the predicament of our protagonist who is frustrated but doesn’t know how to fight this web, because it’s so entrenched in her DNA.  If on the one hand there’s an over bearing father in law but on the other hand is the entitled husband who loves her so long as she fits into the mould of domestic subservience. She’s not allowed to say her mind. 

The one scene that moved me to the core is when she talks about intimacy issue with her husband and how acidly is she stopped by her husband. Let me just add here that this movie doesn’t show any domestic abuse or violence. The men of the movie are not hard core mean villains who are morally corrupt. They are a breed of patriarchy and entitlement how their status is raised to the higher position of the family pyramid. 

Writer-Director Jeo Baby creates a world of silent misery and pain that is not reiterated through a high voltage melodrama or background scores or complicated story telling. The characters are real, potent enough to deliver the punch with excellent command over dialogue delivery coupled with restrained and measured expressions. The pace of the movie is poetic and surreal. The leads are not given name in the movie. Instead they address each other with a simple, “dear”. I liked that different portrayal because this is the story of every daughter, sister, wife and mother. The movie touches upon the sensitive topic of menstruation also. How a girl is shunned away by the family as “untouchable” during her menstruation days.

Suraj Venjaramood delivers an effortless depiction of entitlement and male chauvinism. Nimisha Sajayan has a strong screen presence. She captures your heart in the very first frame and you are intrigued to be a part of her journey. The arc of her character is woven with multiple shades of happiness, hardship, fatigue, discomfort, sadness, frustration, anger and last but not the least the control over her own life. Instead of background score, you hear the sounds of domestic chores reeking out of the canvas day in and day out. The cinematography is brilliant beyond words, capturing the stained utensils, messy tables and girl’s minute facial expressions as they change with each frame. The movie would make you uncomfortable and cringe but the finale of the movie will satisfy all your “getting even” fangs.

As a Pakistani viewer, I could totally relate to the world of the “The Great Indian Kitchen” as we see this all in our culture as well. This movie gives you that innate feeling of respect towards our mothers, sisters, daughters and wives who never ever say no to our needs and wants. I would highly recommend this movie which is now streaming on an OTT app called the Nee Stream. 

My biggest take away from this movie was that a husband will love his wife so long as she gives it all to the patriarchy wrapped in the garb of century’s old respect and etiquette towards a husband and in-laws. We so badly need to break this circle of entitlement and it can be done once the parents start treating their daughters and sons equally on all domestic and career fronts. At the same time, teaching our girls to maintain that fine balance between etiquette and giving away the control over their lives.

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Naya Daur