'The Great Indian Kitchen': Women have only their chains to lose and nothing else

In the vastness of life, there’s so much happiness out there to be claimed by anyone and everyone who dares to stand against oppression and abuse.
Suraj Venjaramoodu and Nimisha Sajayan looking at each other in The Great Indian Kitchen
Suraj Venjaramoodu and Nimisha Sajayan looking at each other in The Great Indian Kitchen
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I finally watched Jeo Baby’s The Great Indian Kitchen. I had very recently watched his other film, the not-so-popular 2 Penkuttikal and loved it a lot, but felt it was a story left untold, or an unfinished tale, or one that lacked the necessary details. TGIK was however, a completely different story, though done along the same lines: the untold pain that women undergo due to unchecked, toxic masculinity.

Most of the almost 1.5-hr long movie is shot in absolute silence or with very little dialogues or even background score. For most of the movie, the background score is filled with house noises, the dragging of chairs, the clanging of vessels against each other, the sounds of washing clothes, or the scratching of the floor by the broom. The story unfolds through the eyes and expressions of Nimisha, who plays the nameless wife in the story.

She isn’t exactly the rich, modern woman that one expects to see, being the daughter of Gulf returnees. She is a regular girl with, let’s say, regular dreams. She’s probably like one of us when you are in your 20s or 30s, waiting for the knight in shining armor, who’ll come with his parents and relatives to ask your hand and soon after, you’ll settle in marital bliss, siring two children in quick succession, run a lovely home filled with smells of elaborate breakfasts, lunches, tea-snacks, and dinners, and go on vacations with extended families and splash photographs of picture-perfect families on social media.

Watch: Teaser of The Great Indian Kitchen

Working or not working and where and in which career will, of course, be ascertained by the likes and dislikes of the knights, who’ll by now be in better, stronger positions as fathers of the progeny. But, this is not what Nimisha's character does. In the most iconic and personally most-gratifying moment of the film, she serves the men, her husband and father-in-law, the water collected from under the leaky sink as tea and when they come rushing to physically abuse her (and mind you in the entire film there’s not a single instance of physical abuse), she throws the entire bucket of the waste water on the two wastrels, slings her handbag across her shoulder, and walks out, breathing fire and brimstone.

So, why did Nimisha's character do what she did while most of the women in this country shut up and put up with the scraps of what’s doled out to them by patriarchy? This is a question that women must ask themselves, perhaps. While there may be differences in specific instances of emotional violence that the woman goes through in the film, the overarching premise of violence, especially emotional, and abuse that form the backbone of the great Indian family structure is beautifully established and very poignantly explored in a myriad ways.

I try and imagine how women, caught in almost similar circumstances would feel about the film. One of the first things that would come up would be she had a family she could turn to. She could drive a car. She could find a job. And perhaps the second thing would be she didn’t have kids. What would she have done? The kids belong to the father anyway. The kids need a father; that the father is a toxic male feeding the venom of patriarchy into the kids every day is simply inconsequential to the idea of a stable family, right? The third thing, of course, the pet peeve of some modern women is also that you’ll end up alone, man-less, child-less, and happiness-less!

I’d like to think the last scene of the film answers all this and much more through its drone shot. In the vastness of life, there’s so much happiness out there to be claimed by anyone and everyone who dares to stand against oppression and abuse. All that the women have to lose when they say no to the dikats of patriarchy is only their chains. Chains that tell them who is a good woman, who is not, who is a good mother and who is not, and who is supposedly happy with a great sex life and who is the “fallen” feminist living alone with only her values and a young daughter to hold close when the cowardly thugs that defend patriarchy and toxic masculinity come to burn down everything she holds close.

Overall, a beautiful, beautiful effort. And, that it’s come from a man is what’s most reassuring; that the world today is changing is wonderful ways and the day of the feminist paradise ain’t all that far, and on a quiet day as this, to paraphrase Arundhati Roy, I can hear her roar.

The film is playing on Amazon Prime Video.

Hannah Dhanaraj is a Dalit feminist from Chennai, India. She loves travelling, gardening, storytelling, and baking. When she isn't doing any of these, she's busy bringing up her little son into a sensitive young man who believes in equality.

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