I don’t know about you, but when I came across a movie titled The Great Indian Kitchen, I was expecting it to be actually about the kitchen, you know about cooking and light hearted topics around the home. Boy was I wrong! Then, I saw the teaser and though it did give a hint about things going sour, it did not give away the core. A couple of my cousins had watched it and labeled it a must-watch, so we sat down to see it last Saturday.
For those who haven’t seen it yet, Suraj Venjaramoodu and Nimisha Sajayan play the key roles in the movie. Before I give you a gist, let me tell you that the characters don’t have names, so I will be referring to them as husband, wife, father-in-law (FIL) etc. The story begins with a shot of the heroine joyfully dancing at her dance class and from there it cuts to the occasion of her pennu kaanal (girl viewing, where the potential groom and family see a potential bride before agreeing to the marriage). The couple gets married and after the initial days of celebratory lunches and dinners at relatives’ homes, the wife enters her new kitchen. Refreshingly, the mother-in-law (MIL) is very sweet and the pair get along well, while taking care of ALL the needs of both the men in the house. At one point, the MIL goes away to help her pregnant daughter, leaving the new bride to take over. By now, the audience has received an overview of the male characters — they do not involve in any of the household chores. It is not just that they don’t do anything around the house, they expect the women to do things for them to a point where the FIL does not brush his teeth until his toothbrush and paste are handed to him; only a silver platter is missing! He needs his wife to bring his slippers for him before he steps out of the house, he has very specific likes and dislikes when it comes to food and the way food is prepared, and has a strong opinion about his daughter-in-law applying for a job. He even justifies his stand by saying that his wife is a post graduate but she chose to be a home maker for the good of the family. The MIL, on the other hand, is supportive of the girl’s dreams and encourages her to apply for the job, which of course doesn’t bode well with the men. You probably have an idea of where the story is going. The new bride tries her best to adjust to the new ways and routines of her new family, while being constantly disgusted by the men’s table manners and overall attitude towards her and women in general.
A common theme of the movie is how women get entangled in the societal norms that they eventually lose their individuality. Right from the MIL, a neighbor who helps out when the wife has her periods, and the husband’s aunt who comes to help out when the men undergo their 41 day vrutham (penance) before going to Sabarimala, all seem to have accepted their roles as subservient humans who are only meant to work like machines around the clock. The new bride tries to voice her concerns and gets snubbed instantly. In one scene, the couple are dining at a restaurant and she casually comments on how her husband showcases good table manners, unlike at home where he and his father leave their plates and food waste on the table for the women to clear. The husband gets very very offended.
The life of the men is leisurely, the husband practices yoga every morning while the wife slogs in the kitchen to get breakfast and lunch ready and the FIL simply reads the newspaper, naps. The poor girl’s life is confined to the walls of the kitchen and home — the heat from the wood-burning stove, the constantly dripping stinky sink, the dirty dining table and zero consideration from the husband become the highlights of her day. On top of everything, she does not even have a say to how and when she wants to be intimate with her husband; even that is governed by the husband’s will. Eventually, she breaks the shackles and walks out of the house and the relationship. She becomes a dance teacher and the ex-husband re-marries. The last scene shows the new wife who has taken over the role of being the submissive woman, ready to rot away in the confines of the kitchen under the rule of the misogynistic men.
My take on the topic: The story is very realistic and the fact that the main characters do not have names emphasizes the fact that it is a common occurrence, and that any name can be applied to the roles. The portrayal of the characters is very natural and the attention to detail is superb. Even simple facts such as the MIL wearing salwar kameezes when she is with her daughter is relatable (she would only wear saris or set mundu when at home). The entire situation is even more painful because the story happens in an upper middle class family with money, education and so called ‘tharavaditham’ (nobility).
I consider myself extremely lucky for not having had to deal with such men, both while growing up and after marriage. The men in my family have no qualms with doing their bit at home. Their involvement was so much that my grandfather and great uncle would wash their own plates after every meal, right until the day when they couldn’t do it any more. Over the past few years, my father has even taken over the responsibilities of the morning coffee and breakfast and an occasional lunch at home.
Even though Mr. P does not cook, he helps out with the more important work: the cleaning. And I couldn’t be more grateful. While watching the movie, he very sweetly told me that he was going to make a checklist and tick off things that he did/did not do. I don’t need a checklist to say this, there is nothing common between the characters portrayed in the movie and my husband. Unfortunately, that’s not the case with many women in all our families who have and are still undergoing this trauma.
I think this movie is a necessary eye-opener for society. Whether it makes an impact on the men who watch it or not, I sincerely hope that it gives women the inspiration to stand up for their rights. I am not instigating a revolt here, but I believe that women or men for that matter, should stand up for their rights and against the wrongs that society doles out to them. I also believe that men need to step up and do their part at home and I don’t mean just cooking, cleaning etc. There are way more important things like being emotionally available, supportive and appreciative of the women in their lives. Some times all a woman needs to hear is compliment about the food she has so lovingly prepared or an encouraging word to take up a job or even a hobby that she had put away for ages. Trust me, a quick hug or even an appreciative smile can go a long way.
Women are strong and resilient and have the innate ability to stay afloat and survive, regardless of whatever life hands out to them. Here’s to women all over the world and the good men who treat women with respect.