Film: The Great Indian Kitchen (2021)

Director: Jeo Baby

Cast: Nimisha Sajayan, Suraj Venjaramood, T. Suresh Babu, Ajitha V.M., Ramadevi, Kaban

Country/Language: India/Malayalam

Genre: Drama

‘The Great Indian Kitchen’, written and directed by Jeo Baby, is a Malayalam-language film about the subtle sexism practiced in patriarchal households in modern-day India. The story follows the unnamed protagonist (played by Nimisha Sajayan), simply known as the Wife, who gets arranged in a marriage to the gentle and quiet Husband (Suraj Venjaramoodu).

There is a pleasant wedding ceremony, which the director films with an objective eye like a documentary. Children sit in the corner and eat, the parents are ecstatic, the bride and groom are shy, the attendants shower the couple with flowers. We then see the bride move into the groom’s house and become a homemaker. Over a course of months, the reality of being a domesticated housewife in a new environment begins taking a mental and emotional toll on the Wife.

Jeo Baby expertly crafts the story in a way that we do not find easy villains in the story. There is no public humiliation, physical assault, or the restraining and locking up of hysterical wives. And yet, we the audience get the feeling of slow creeping dread and anxiety, a sympathetic feeling of restlessness for the Wife as she goes about her daily chores. There are seemingly never ending scenes of the lonesome Wife chopping vegetables, stirring the pot, cleaning the floor, setting the table, collecting food residue from the bottom of the sink, and washing the utensils. We see her carry out these duties without complaint. Some might watch her and assume she enjoys her work. But it becomes more obvious as these montages advance that she is not feeling serene. There is a concentrated look on her face, a mix of disgust and restlessness. The leaking pipes and increasingly smelly water in the kitchen is a metaphor for her slowly nauseating domestic life.

Casual misogyny is an evil that lurks behind the veil of polite faces and slowly crushes the spirit of the house wife. This deadening routine is perhaps inspired by Chantal Akerman’s feminist arthouse classic ‘Jeanne Dielmann, 23 Commerce Quay, 1080 Brussels’. The Franco-Belgian film also follows the daily routines of a domestic woman who cooks, cleans and sets the house the whole day. The scenes here are much longer than the montages in ‘Indian Kitchen’.

As March celebrates Women’s History Month, it can be a great time to check out this film. Some may find it too slow and uneventful. But this is exactly how it is supposed to feel. This is how our heroine feels. This is how countless housewives, and even domestic workers, around the world feel while going about their days. There is a worryingly increasing number of Men’s Rights Activists (MRAs) that are attacking the feminist movement. They claim that women and men are now equal. That women, in fact, have more benefits and privileges than men now. The days of patriarchal oppression and misogyny are behind us. This misinformation continues to be circulated in the Internet manosphere. “Becoming a housewife is a choice” now. However, ‘The Great Indian Kitchen’ subtly shows that we are still far from women’s true liberation and that changing laws is not enough for gender equality. Real change must occur in the home.

‘The Great Indian Kitchen’ is streaming on the Malayalam platform ‘Neestream’.

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