I just watched The Great Indian Kitchen, directed by Geo Baby and starring Nimisha Sajayan, Suraj Venjaramoodu, and Sidhartha Siva, on newbie OTT Platform NeeStream.
Premise (for the uninitiated): Due to unavoidable circumstances, a newlywed woman is left in charge of all the domestic work in the house, where her husband and father-in-law reside. A broken pipe and several morsels of leftovers later, she is left to figure her way through the ‘circus’. Will she make the cut?
Considering the low publicity and hype surrounding the film, it was a pleasant surprise: a breath of fresh air and of course, a great start to 2021 Mollywood. It only reinforced my belief that art can talk to the viewer. I felt that I was as much a part of the film as the characters in that universe. There are many relevant topics that The Great Indian Kitchen addresses, albeit in a non-preachy way. And the film warrants discussions in these areas, and this is just an attempt to spark off those conversations.
Here are 9 thoughts from the film. There are no spoilers as such, but we suggest you watch The Great Indian Kitchen for better context!
#1: Every morning, Suraj and his father leave the dining table in a shabby fashion, with leftovers scattered all over the area. At first, we think that it is a case of poor table manners. But later, we see Suraj in a restaurant, carefully placing his leftovers on a side plate. Like Nimisha observes, “Table manners illathonnumalla”.
It’s purely male entitlement at play here: the confidence that however messy he leaves the table, there is a woman at the end of the day, to deal with it. It is this very entitlement that the film tugs at, making every male viewer slightly guilty of how they have complied to this in their own households. (After all, how many times have we had something to drink, and left the glass unwashed at the sink?)
#2: The scenes are written, staged and sequenced with impeccable detail. We see Nimisha’s father-in-law disallowing her from applying for work, by saying the age-old rationale: “What you homemakers do is more noble and meaningful than what politicians and businessmen do”. And in the very next shot, we see Nimisha washing an underwear!
When Suraj walks along the corridor of his workplace, complaining to his colleague how his wife broke the norms of his Sabarimala fast, we see APJ Abdul Kalam and other eminent scientists on the wall. Bypassing science, literally!
#3: The bottle of soap and the wastewater leaking from the pipe become motifs in the film, with Nimisha unable to rid herself of the stench of the mess, however hard she lathers her hands with the soap. The dirty water getting accumulated at the sink is a measure of her oppression, and Suraj’s reluctance to call the plumber is a sign of man’s inertia to fix the broken system.
#4: It is to be noted that it’s not only the men who reinforce these regressive customs but also some women, who believe (and are made to believe from a young age) that this is how “good women” behave. The level of Patriarchy we see today is a result of “double non-thinking”: men not considering the opposite sex, and women accepting the status quo for decades.
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#5: Another subject that the film takes on, is the “cleanliness hypocrisy”. When Nimisha is at the dinner table, cleaning the mess her husband made, her hands are greasy and untidy. Despite her pointing this out, Suraj comes over and gives her a hug. And in the biggest irony of ironies, when she gets her periods, the men in the house see her as unclean and disallow her from touching or doing anything.
#6: The film also delves into how women’s reproductive needs are blatantly ignored. When Nimisha tells Suraj that it’s her period, his first instinct is to tell her that they should order from outside (because impure woman = not allowed in kitchen = no food in the house), rather than ask her how she is doing, whether she needs pads, etc. The film also has one of the most poignant scenes surrounding sex.
#7: Interestingly, the film begins with “Thanks Science” in place of the customary “Thank God”. While the atheistic nature of that message may be open to debate, the film throws light not on God or Religion, but on the blind followers of religion. Religion was, after all, a social construct that was aimed at uniting people. But the way these customs are ardently followed by people even today, raises serious questions. Suraj’s household is extremely conservative, and a lot of light is shed on their antics during the “Sabarimala fast”. To provide contrast, we also see a girl swamy who is innocent enough to not comply with the “rules” and meet Nimisha when she’s on her periods.
#8: The editing pattern is interesting. We first see Nimisha at a dance workshop. Her every step is intercut with shots of cooking, suggesting that her life was going to transition from that to this. Most of the film happens inside a house, and most shots in the first half are establishing in nature, with no dialogue taking place. Yet, the edit (intercutting three mundane scenes together) makes for a more engaging watch. Also, clever placement of continuous shots makes room for some scenes to sink in deeper.
#9: The script is elevated by a nuanced performance by Nimisha Sajayan. She deftly embodies the palpable anger building inside of her (and us) with every passing day in that household. Suraj Venjaramoodu looks trim and offers ample support as the indifferent husband. Let’s take a moment and appreciate these actors for consistently involving themselves in offbeat roles and projects (the likes of Android Kunjappan, Chola, Aabhasam, and Eeda)!
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Do share your thought about The Great Indian Kitchen.