This movie which was released in January on a relatively new regional streaming platform made waves across the country. There were several social media feeds mostly from women highly recommending the movie. This had gotten me eager to watch it but the procrastinator in me kept pushing the idea of looking into one more streaming platform and figuring out the subscription. Yes, the platform worked on a pay-per-film model, but laziness gets the best of us some time. This time probably the Qayanat also wanted to help me out and “Great Indian Kitchen started streaming on Amazon Prime last weekend and this time lazy me caught the movie, the very next day after it started streaming on the platform.
Fifteen minutes into the movie, I was floored. The wedding guests are shown as leaving, with cars exiting the driveway and, in the end, a blazing red car is standing on the driveway, with ribbons across its bonnet. This had to be one of the most perfect examples of visual storytelling for me and as the movie progressed, I realized this movie in itself is a lesson in visual storytelling.
Is the patriarchy portrayed relegated to only small towns and conservative homes?
One observation I received from a lot of my city-bred woke peers is the kind of family shown in the movie doesn’t exist in today’s time. Do women these days spend so much time in the kitchen? Some of them asked. If only these observers had decided to observe the lives around them a little more keenly, they would fathom for themselves how shallow their observation sounds. To this day, the first question a girl is asked by her prospective in-laws, however qualified or accomplished she may be, is “can you cook?” While, if a man so much as enters the kitchen occasionally, the wife would be told she is so blessed and lucky to have a man like him for a life partner. Could there be a more blatant example of sexism in our supposed “modern” lives?
Let’s move further into the movie, the first morning of the newlywed daughter-in-law (played brilliantly by Nimisha Sajayan) in the marital home and she is being updated by her mother-in-law about the food preferences of the men in the house, not once revealing how she would prefer it or asking the daughter-in-law about her preferences. Women are advised and encouraged to find the tastes and preferences of the men they are to marry. After marriage, they are expected to plan the menu according to those preferences. Haven’t most women out there heard “you have to make adjustments after marriage?”
The women of the house are shown having a routine existence, with most of their waking hours spent either in the kitchen or cleaning the house, doing the laundry, and all the chores required around the house. What are the men seen doing? Reading the newspaper leisurely, doing yoga while soaking in the morning freshness, and scrolling through the phone as they relax after a tiring day. This reminds me of the lady in my neighborhood who would say proudly, how her husband needs to be served the breakfast and the lunch box has to be given in his hand, otherwise the poor man would go to work hungry and remain hungry throughout the day. The other women gathered around her would nod in unison. These poor men could be seen lounging in the neighborhood in the evenings after work catching up with their buddies, while the wives sweat it out in the kitchen, cooking them dinner of their choice. These are the modern nuclear families, that I am speaking of and they could be there in any neighborhood you peek into.
The scene where the wife is seen working on the laptop in the kitchen, while food cooks on the stove would have resonated with thousands of women across the country. Wasn’t that how life functioned for most working women during the nationwide lockdown owing to the pandemic last year. Though the men sometimes “helped” around the house.
Being ambitious and having a career is a woman’s choice, or is it?
The daughter-in-law wants to work, she aspires to be a teacher. “It won’t suit our house” declares the father-in-law and the husband dutifully asks her not to apply now, wait till the time is right. I can almost see folks jumping to say, “doesn’t happen in our homes, we are quite liberal you know, we allow our women to have a career.” There lies the catch, women are still “allowed”. The thought that they are adults capable of taking care of their lives doesn’t strike anyone. The plight of those women who are allowed, well you can see it for yourself if you step out during the morning or evening rush hour on a working day.
She could be the woman whom you see rushing off to the office, often tucking off things in her bags as she rush to catch their auto or bus to work. She could be the colleague, whom you see rushing to finish off her work without a break. She could be the woman whom you see rushing back home tugging that bag of vegetables or groceries in the evening. She is the one who has to be home by eight and must ensure all the chores at home are completed to perfection, she is being allowed to work after all.
Now tell me how is the case of this woman any different from the daughter-in-law in the movie? If she were to question the status quo, she would probably be told the glorious tales of sacrifices made for the family by women before her, like that of the mother-in-law in the movie.
Can a body function be impure?
The wife is shunned to a room, forced to lie on the floor, and made to stay away from the others in the house, lest she makes the rest of the house and the family members impure. This is one practice that makes me angry but at the same time makes me wonder why have we followed this illogical notion of associating impurity with a normal biological function like menstruation for generations now? The only conclusion I could draw is it acts as an effective tool to make women ashamed of their bodies. This shame has been internalized to such an extent that women themselves propagate this to the next generation and shame other women who do not comply with this notion.
The director of the movie received a lot of flak and a section of the viewers were miffed with the fact that the movie’s climax supported the judgment given by the Supreme Court of India in 2018, which permitted women of all ages entry into the Sabrimala temple. Fear of God and societal boycott has been used as a tool to make women toe the line for centuries now, that is exactly what the movie has shown. Truth is never accepted with ease, specifically when it is an uncomfortable truth.
To all those who say, such derogatory segregation is hardly followed in any home these days, can they say the illogical notion of associating impurity with menstruation has died down? Sadly no, menstruation is still spoken about in hushed whispers and a menstruating woman is still not welcome at any religious function in her own home. So, it needs to be spoken about till the taboo and illogical beliefs associated with it dies down.
Entitlement is the path to lifelong dependency
The climax shows the wife walking away from her toxic and patriarchal matrimonial home, to be happy in her space and her job. The husband, on the other hand moves on to marry another lady to replace the wife in the kitchen. While most viewers have called this the ugly reality, but what I saw is an entitled man who can never be independent thanks to his own mindset, for even that morning cup of coffee has to be served to him. While a woman only needs to draw her strength to set out into the world and face it head-on.
One observation I do agree with is this man definitely was a product of bad parenting. He is the son of a man who was overtly entitled and saw it as his birthright to sit and command the woman at home. The son only followed his example. Yes, fathers play an equally important role in parenting.
The fact that the husband was a teacher of sociology at a girl’s school, speaks a lot about how deep-rooted and internalized misogyny and hypocrisy are in our society.