‘The Great Indian Kitchen’, A nonconformist cinema?

At a time when commercial mainstream movies are most sought after, cinema with the different plot and narrative modes is not only ignored by the public but is made financially marginalized. I very often remember the interview of one of the great Indian filmmakers of all time, Mr. Satyajit Ray when he says “We have a relatively backward and unsophisticated audience here.” Parallel cinema upholding a realistic plot is rich in content, symbols, and various facets that make a movie not only wonderful to view but such picture leave the audience a bequest worthy to celebrate and immortal in nature. They represent and showcase socio-political reality which may have a long-lasting impact. While possessing such characteristics, such cinema lacks the other prominent elements of commercial cinema. Commercial cinema is generally made to make it more sellable to the audience. These days meanwhile, we lack parallel movies in the subcontinent. Although there are many movies that have been made on such a theme, they are sought by a small amount of critical audiences having an abundant critical inquiry. Also at the time when mainstream Bollywood and other regional cinemas were making commercial cinema focusing on a larger audience, few cinema makers across different industries opt to go an alternative way. What can be a suitable example other than Malayalam? When we try to understand the movies made there, one can certainly sense that filmmakers there at some point in time tried making their motion pictures different. It could be different in plot, modes of storytelling, and screenplay as a whole. Such motion pictures don’t necessarily fall into the category of parallel cinema because they lack some element of parallel cinema per se. I literally loved movies such as Ustad Hotel, BigB, Charlie, Malik, and Drishyam’s among others. And now, another masterpiece has been added which raises the issues of gender and appeals to the huge masses across the subcontinent that something has been wrong with the way we see and treat women. The award-winning film for the 51st ‘Kerala state film award’ is The Great Indian Kitchen.

The Great Indian Kitchen” is directed by Malayalam director Jeo Baby. Its cast includes Nimisha Sajayan and Suraj Veenjaramoodu. .(The Great Indian Kitchen 2021) Although the plot moves quite slowly, The Great Indian Kitchen depicts the everyday reality of an average Indian movie in the sub-urban setting of South India. After the wedding with Suraj is over, Nimisha expects that she will be able to continue her work alongside pursuing a passion in the house where she is newly married. She is a dancer(Teacher) while her husband is a teacher. Some weeks are normal as to her expectation but things slowly start to change when her father and mother-in-law start behaving in an unusual way. Being an educated and independent woman, she was not supposed to fall into the trap of a traditional patriarchal family but unfortunately, she did. Her daily chores include washing clothes, involving in kitchen activities, leaking taps, and overall cleaning the house. The tragedy among the differences in women is seen when the mischievous mother leaves her home for some period in order to take care of her pregnant daughter.(The Great Indian Kitchen 2021) Women or Nimisha in particular have no choice at all in the movie. Only after serving the male, she is supposed to have her dinner. Her priority, choice, and grievances have been suppressed by her husband and father-in-law. She finds herself in a vicious circle when her husband also starts to ignore her feelings. Suraj is a man of dominating nature. In one instance, she is deprived of the right to orgasm when her husband forces her to have sex despite her objection. When she asks for foreplay, she is not only denied but into the wrong impression of her husband that she has had sex many times before their marriage.(The Great Indian Kitchen 2021) These scenes uncover the lens through which Indian women are seen in a traditionally patriarchal society. Director is not only problematizing the male characters involved inspired by patriarchy but the repercussions of the deeply rooted thinking and ideology itself. On the one hand, her father-in-law does not allow her to be employed in the workplace. Meanwhile, she lives in her husband’s home like a bird lives in a cage. The situation really worsens when she is aware of how negative her family is of mensuration. The culmination of these events leads her to go out of her home and live an independent life where she pursues her passion which is her old profession. Her willingness to move out of that chaotic and unpropitious situation shows not only her strength and willingness to be in freedom and peace but is itself a challenge to patriarchy.

S.R Praveen of The Hindu in his article writes “A leaking sink, uncomfortable close-up shots of leftover food, repeated shots of vegetables being cut, the smoke and fire of rice being cooked in a hearth, the clanging of the dishes being washed and a drab, unremarkable kitchen which almost becomes solitary confinement for the female protagonist.” (The Hindu 2021) The movie is certainly a good assessment of how the women are thought by society or any particular traditional middle-class family. Concerted shots make the movie really interesting to watch. Women are presented in such a way that she is been limited to the kitchen. Outside of the kitchen, she has no identity. Metaphorically, that very kitchen is like a cage where women like Nimisha are confined inside and are not allowed to shift beyond that area. On the other hand, her husband and father-in-law are seen doing yoga, talking about politics, and eating consistently at the right time. The everyday life of South Asian has been that despite having a lot of expectations and hope, they will not be able to move beyond their comfort zone. The future and freedom are outside the kitchen but such things have not been safeguarded yet. Family structure, patriarchy, and gender dichotomy are the biggest enemy seeking sudden dismantling to ensure equal opportunities and rights for women. The director is smart enough to take close shots to show the subjectivity and bias of characters among the others. The scenes and conversation are very generic but the theme and strong content of the movie without a relatively large amount of characters and the lack of typical plot perpetuated in regional cinema makes this movie even more watchable. The director is able to hit hard into the problem underlying patriarchy and traditional thought. As it is shown in a realistic way the movie is a good reference where girls and women of South Asia can draw upon their subjectivity as well as everyday lived experiences. Things have started changing slowly as well as gradually but despairing thing is that the conventional, as well as patriarchal thoughts, still continue to govern even today.


A wanderer.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store