Greasy plates, dirty floor, empty tea cups, gurgling sink, cutting board, whistling cooker, wood-burning smoke, and bucketful of kitchen waste, this is what “The Great Indian Kitchen” is mostly about. Roughly 95 % of it. If you are the kind that relishes a plate of good biriyani but is disinterested in the craft that goes into its cooking, you may not have the appetite for this. If you are the kind that likes cookery shows, this movie will definitely disappoint you. This movie is about all those women whose self-worth is measured based on the rules written on the walls of a Kitchen and life aspirations battered with the Dosa batter.
While I am writing this, in some part of the remote Indian village, a woman might be getting whacked by her drunkard husband. A seemingly mundane ending to her day long back-breaking work with the kids and in the kitchen, preordained by the millennium old patriarchy. For that man, beating his wife is an obligation, and a right bestowed upon him by his male predecessors. For the woman, embracing these bodily blows is her duty endowed by her righteous and pious female predecessors. Man’s self-entitlement and woman’s self-abnegation is deeply rooted in the minds.
Somewhere in the evolution of human societies, women were entrusted with culinary duties. With the passage of time, they ended-up being confined to the Kitchen and its ancillaries. Some bloke then surmised, “this is what 50% of the ‘man’kind is meant for”. It is perplexing to think that modern democracies only started enfranchising women in the early 20th century and 244 old America is still waiting for its first woman president. In the past few centuries, when the women were busy in the kitchens, male scientists were busy vying for a space in the modern science history books. Few like Madam Curie, managed to break the kitchen walls to make their way to the science laboratories. As modern societies evolved to allow women in professions previously barred for them, the women happily embraced the opportunities, but held on to their kitchen duties. Something cinematically portrayed in the Bollywood movie “mission mangal.
There is nothing wrong if a woman chooses to be a house-wife or for a man to be a house-husband if the working wife agrees. What’s wrong is for the men to think that’s what women must do for the greater good of the society. What’s wrong is to make her think thats the best choice she has. What’s also wrong is when working couples don’t share household chores. Perhaps, there is an element of patriarchy in the “माँ के हाथ का खाना” cliché. Or may be an irony that despite collectively contributing so much to the art of cooking, the world today gives more footage to male chefs and male food bloggers. By the way, what’s wrong with Papa’s cooking? My Papa surprises his kids and grand children frequently with his culinary skills. Yes, there is no substitute to “माँ के हाथ का खाना” but that’s not her only expression of love. There is more to her than kitchen.
I should stop my feminist rant. I am far from being perfect and neither are you, but I want you to see the movie.
I have deliberately not mentioned much about the movie. It is a piece of art. It gets on to you slowly. Don’t draw conclusions soon like I did. About half way through the movie, it felt like a Marxian celebration of the Supreme Court judgement on the Sabarimala. Few more minutes in to it and it felt like a Hindu phobic rant. “Who and where are these people?”, “Why I don’t see them?”, “Who follows these rituals nowadays”, I asked myself. May be, in a singular personification I have hardly encountered such people, but it is prevalent otherwise in bits and pieces in all of us. In things that we take for granted. In remarks that we make. In our actions and thought. In the WhatsApp jokes we like to forward. I am no expert of law but my two cents on the Sabarimala judgement: “In matters of public morality, one cannot be selective in being liberal. Yes, there is another side to this viewpoint but the court should show its right intent by also looking at the malpractices of other religions”.
Don’t expect a stereotypical wife-beating patriarchal husband or dowry greedy in-laws. The male actor does Yoga, teaches Sociology to girl students, and does not outrightly say ‘no’ to his wife when she wishes to become a dance teacher. Yet, makes everything possible to ensure she cannot escape her primary role in the kitchen. The best part of the movie is its ending and I am tempted to give a spoiler. The movie ends with the wife finally becoming what she always wanted to become, a Dance teacher, and overseeing a mesmerising and liberating dance. The best few minutes of the movie.
The quote mentioned at the start of this write-up is a rehash of the famous quote by Francis Bacon. In an era when people prefer entertainment or information in short crisp youtube clips or movies, a social message via movie is useful. This movie is a hope. That it is written and directed by a man and not a woman, itself shows the changing times ahead.
“The Great Indian Kitchen” is like Dum-biriyani. Wait till its properly cooked. Once done, open the lid and relish the biriyani. Make sure you chew and digest it properly.
I am sure you will taste the message.