The Great Indian Kitchen review: Powerful film on patriarchy and men-governed traditions
The Great Indian Kitchen
Director: Jeo Baby
Cast: Nimisha Sajayan, Suraj Venjaramoodu
Films that question patriarchy are often criticized because they’re mostly made by men, and it is argued that rarely do they do justice to the subject. Jeo Baby’s The Great Indian Kitchen is an exception, and one that questions the deep-rootedness of patriarchy in our society as realistically as possible without any gimmicks. Without picking sides, the film quietly, in the most harrowing fashion, gives us a glimpse into the life of a married woman in India and her role in the kitchen. With each shot, the film makes one squirm in his seat while asking questions such as how we treat women in our homes.
The film opens with the shot of Nimisha in a dance class. We see that she’s happy, and that it’s something that brings her joy, which is evident from the smile on her face. These opening shots are cut with shots of food being prepared at Nimisha’s house as the family is getting ready to host the groom’s family. A couple of scenes later, she’s married and we see her in her husband’s home. As she gets used to the traditions of the family, her life unfolds in the kitchen. What is eventually made to look like a household chore (which it isn’t) slowly turns into a nightmare, a grind that she can’t escape from. As she tries to grapple with the situation while trying to be the ideal wife and daughter-in-law, she starts to suffocate with nobody to her rescue.
Every time the movie shifts the camera on a female character, we see her in the kitchen or attending to the men in the house. While the women toil and break their backs in the kitchen, the men are lazing around, scrolling through videos on whatsapp and leaving behind food waste on the dining table for the women to clean. The film’s most beautiful but haunting shots take place in the kitchen. As the camera zooms in on the food being prepared, all one could think of is how lip-smackingly delicious it could taste. But as the camera pans on the women who are making those dishes, working in the most horrible conditions, it’s a stark reminder of the reality and how patriarchy has enslaved women.
A lot of scenes take place in the kitchen. This is just to drive home the point that we have normalised women being in the kitchen, like it’s no big deal. Scenes are cut back and forth from kitchen to the bedroom. In one beautiful scene, Nimisha tells her husband that she’d really appreciate some foreplay when they get intimate. The husband mocks at her knowledge about foreplay and behaves as though it’s a crime for women to seek all that. There’s a hard-hitting subplot about menstruation and we see how the family treats Nimisha during this phase. While the men in the house prepare themselves for a trip to Sabarimala and talk about purity; nobody is bothered about the women who slog to keep everything clean. In another powerful scene, the father-in-law tells Nimisha to drop her idea of applying for a job because he feels the job women do in the house is far more superior to what bureaucrats and ministers do.
Nimisha Sajayan is unbelievably convincing as the wife who struggles to adjust to the life dictated by men in her family. Her character and performance are so relatable and you’d wonder if anyone else could’ve played her part more aptly. As much as the film talks about patriarchy, it’s also about those oppressed women who never question these men governed traditions.
The Great Indian Kitchen has to be the most powerful film on patriarchy in recent years and it makes for a very important watch.
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