The Great Indian kitchen movie deserves all the appreciation!
Before starting the movie, I was well aware how everyone appreciated ‘The Great Indian Kitchen’ movie as the best of the year. I knew I was in for an amazing experience and the movie didn’t disappoint me. This is an honest analysis of the movie from my heart.
The ‘Great Indian kitchen’ is a title that can catch you off guard. One might think it may be about Indian cuisine if they had no idea what the movie was about. But it is about the kitchens in most Indian households. The kitchens where a woman spends most of the time of her day.
Before going further, let’s address the exceptions to the scenarios in the movie:
· In some households, both men and women may work together in the kitchen.
· In some households, they may appoint maids to cover all these chores.
But the numbers of such houses are minuscule in comparison. This article is only going to address the households that are completely or even a little similar to the one shown in the movie.
The premise of the movie:
The kitchens are held together by women and only women. The only reason men might go inside the kitchen is to get snacks or water. But do they do it themselves if the women are around? Not really! They could simply command the woman to fetch things for them. Because it is the duty of a woman to serve the household.
Some guys claim that nowadays women are privileged and they don’t do much of the works at home. If you are one of them, then think of the mother-in-law in the movie who might resemble your mother when I state the upcoming points.
Let’s start with the movie, shall we? The newlywed couples start their life pretty much as any arranged marriage couple would. The mother-in-law brings the toothbrush with the paste to her husband who is leisurely sitting in the front yard. Then we see the mother-in-law working hard in the kitchen when the wife goes in to help. The mother-in-law says that her husband and son prefer different combinations with dosa- coconut chutney and sambhar. She also says her husband (father-in-law) prefers the chutney which is hand ground. The wife makes tea for her husband and after drinking the tea the husband leaves the cup close to the washbasin. The wife immediately washes the cup. The husband could have done it himself. He was right there. But he chooses to leave the cup.
Then the food is served for the men of the house, hot from the pan. The women bring dosa straight from the pan pacing between the dining table and the kitchen to make sure the food is served hot. Then the men eat the tasty meal and leave the plates and food waste lying around on the table after eating. The women pick up the plates and the food waste lying around. The wife is disgusted by all the spilled food and waste, some of which include chewed food.
When it is time for the women of the household to eat, they settle down at the same littered table to eat. But is the day over? Not yet! They then continue to prepare lunch with gravies, vegetables, and rice. The rice is cooked using firewood, only because the father-in-law doesn’t prefer eating rice cooked using a pressure cooker. Yes, let the women inhale all the carbon dioxide released.
The day continues with the women of the household cleaning the entire house, then lighting lamps in the front yard, and preparing dinner. After dinner, they wash a hoard of vessels and clean the kitchen before going to sleep.
All the while, the men in the house- the husband goes to his work and the father-in-law stays home most of the time staring at his phone or sleeping. He goes out at times and when he is about to leave, he calls his wife and she rushes to get him his slipper.
This is a typical day in their lives.
The Problems with the family:
· The father-in-law:
He looks like a retired man. He spends most of his time resting, owing to his old age. But what about his wife who is also old? She is working as hard as she could, to make sure everyone in her family has a perfect day just like many Indian mothers. Does she have retirement? Not really. She is merely replaced with another young woman who will continue to work for the rest of her life, while the men in the house enjoy weekends off, holidays, and sick leaves. But the women keep working round the clock.
This man is so in with patriarchy that he would sit and wait for his wife to bring him his toothbrush with paste instead of getting it himself every morning. Even in her absence, he refuses to get the toothbrush himself. How hard could it be? To walk and get the brush. Only patriarchal men like him would know. Actually, they know it is not hard. It is never about that! It is about them living like a king in their home where they see certain works beneath them. As the majority of Indian society would put it- some works are girls’ work. Only they should do it. A guy should never do it.
The father-in-law also proves his dominance when he calls for his wife to bring his slippers whenever he goes out. He can’t even get his slippers himself! When the daughter-in-law tries to wash his clothes in the washing machine, he says his dress will wear off and asks her to wash his clothes using her hands. Is this man all against technology? Oh, wait no! He is against using mixer-grinder, pressure cooker, and washing machine which reduces the workload of women. But he is fine otherwise. If he wants to be old times it is fine, but he is making it difficult for the women in his household by asking them to not use the gadgets that will reduce their workload. He keeps complaining because it doesn’t affect him in any way. It is not his problem at all. And if the women are suffering because of his stubbornness, it is not a big deal because that’s how they are supposed to live.
He also proudly says his wife was a post-graduate, whom he asked to stay at home and look after the household. He justifies this by saying that’s why both his children are in a good place.
He glorifies the work that women do in every household, by saying it is better than what big leaders and administrators do.
The glorification of women who abide by patriarchal expectations can be seen very clearly at this moment. This glorification of women has been keeping women down for centuries. The director beautifully contrasts the different living scenarios of women by showing the husband’s sister now married and in foreign, dressed in western attire, freely roaming around her home compared to the wife we see who is working her ass off every day.
The father-in-law says it would not suit his family if his daughter-in-law starts working. He smiles while saying this- like a man with no ulterior motives. But we all know what these men want.
Why does an employed woman doesn’t fit in with the image of a patriarchal family?
· She can very well take care of herself financially without the support of men.
· She will be working at her job more than taking care of the house and family.
· She will ask questions and make demands because of her financial contributions.
Is the father-in-law a villain with heartless bloodlust? No! But does he disgust you so much that you are furious about everything he does? Yes!
· The husband:
He is so naïve and follows all the patriarchal norms he has seen from his childhood. He leaves the teacup laying around instead of washing it. He leaves the food waste on the table without any regard for the women who might clean it up after him. When confronted about him following table manners at a restaurant but not at home, he gets mad. He goes as far as to say at his home he will be however he wants to be. The irony is at the restaurant, you are paying for a service- dining. Which includes the restaurant serving you food and cleaning up the table. But at home, the women don’t even get paid. It’s just unpaid labour in the name of duty.
He is the kind of guy who thinks he could have sex with his wife just because they are married. But when his wife says it is hurtful without foreplay he judges her for knowing details about sex.
What are your expectations man?
This one scene is enough to depict the whole mindset of Indian society. Women are expected to marry a stranger who is fixed by her family. She is expected to be chaste and innocent with no knowledge about sex before marriage. But as soon as she gets married she has to be ready to have sex. And if the woman knows about sex everyone is quick to judge her. On top of that, if she asks her husband to satisfy her needs in sex he suddenly thinks it is unreasonable of her to expect such things. Because from what they think sex is only for the pleasure of men and not women. The husband says for him to do foreplay he needs to feel something towards the wife. But he was perfectly okay with getting sexual favours from her without any feelings for her. How cheap is that? Treating women like property and only as a means to pleasure is in the minds of most Indian men.
He is the guy who has no idea what kind of problems are going on in his kitchen. The wife someone who is conscious about handling garbage feels so helpless when there is a leak in the washbasin. She keeps asking her husband to call in a plumber to fix it. But he says he will and forgets it throughout the movie. This might seem insignificant. He just forgot — why is that a big deal? Actually, it is a big deal. You can see the wife reminding him time and again about the issue. But he keeps forgetting it. Because he is not even affected by it. He rarely enters the kitchen and never sees how messy it is under the washbasin. It is not him but his wife who changes carpets under the washbasin that gets wet and collects the leaking dirty water and pours it out every day. Again this guy is not an evil villain. He is just a guy you could spot anywhere in India. But the anger you feel inside you for the way he acts is immeasurable.
When the wife says there is leftover rice for dinner, he asks her to make fresh chappathis because that’s what they eat for dinner. The wife’s mom says how the men and children at home demand fresh meals and only the woman eat the leftover foods. I felt that in my heart because I remember how most of the time my mom ate leftover rice and prepared us fresh food.
There is a scene where one of the guests(male) says that the men will cook for that night so women could rest. They do cook and everyone eats. But when the wife goes into the kitchen after that, she sees all the vessels tossed around and spilled ingredients in a messy kitchen. Even when they say they will help the women, they don’t do everything. The guest even says what more work you have and laughs by neglecting other work that comes with cooking.
Woman on her menstruation:
Let’s talk about the so-called taboo subject now. When the wife tells her husband she is on her menstruation, his first thoughts are about traditions, who will enter the kitchen and cook? How will his day go forward? He doesn’t even think about his wife’s needs until she reminds him about buying napkins. Later in the movie, she is secluded in a room when she is on her menstruation and judged for touching holy plants during her menstruation.
The tradition i.e oppression of women, by calling them impure when they are in their menstruation has been in existence for centuries. The scenario in the movie is not dramatic in any sense. Some people might have not seen this kind of treatment of women during their menstruation in their household. But it does exist and I was shocked when I came to know about it. I wasn’t treated as harshly as they show in the movie in my home. But from what I heard from friends and acquaintances who I have met over the years, I can say this is exactly how young girls and women are treated in India during their menstruation if not worse.
The impurity stigma is so beyond imagination. They don’t even touch women on their periods. If they touch such a woman accidentally, they are treated with so much disgust and hatred even if they are not observing any ritualistic fasting as shown in the movie. The movie also touches on the sensitive subject of the Sabarimala issue.
The perfect example of the patriarchy being against women is shown in the movie. When the husband approaches the priest about the touch of his impure wife who is in her menstruation, the priest comes up with a solution. He says in the old times it used to be “drinking fresh cow dung juice”. But now it can be overcome by just taking dips in river water. Do you see the transformation of problems and solutions over the years when it comes to men?
The patriarchal traditions do evolve and transform but only if it benefits the men. What about the extreme beliefs against women? It doesn‘t matter to the patriarchal traditions.
To the women who are reading this, do you still believe all the things your mothers do when you are in your menstruation? If you are still following all the strict traditions think about why there are no strict traditions for men or why the strict traditions that existed before aren’t practiced anymore. It’s okay for you to respect your religion. But to blindly follow the patriarchal traditions that got intertwined with religion over the years is another thing. I am not like those patriarchal people. I don’t dictate anything. It is your wish to follow or not.
This is the bottom line of the movie.
This has been a long analysis of the movie. But as I mentioned earlier, this movie has made me feel a lot of emotions. Even though I have not experienced or seen what the wife and mother-in-law go through in my own house, I have seen at least a part of it. And from my friends, I have heard similar stories. This has been happening for years now and no one has questioned anything. There are people with a different lifestyles too. Even in the movie, the wife’s friend is shown to be sitting and resting while her husband brings her black tea and offers to cook later. But not many Indian women have that privilege.
The Fitting End:
At the end of the movie, the wife gets so mad that instead of tea she serves them the leaked dirty water from the washbasin that has not yet been repaired. Then she locks the men of the house inside the kitchen, where they never entered but wanted to keep their women in. It was such an amazing parallel. And then she just walks out of there furiously leaving the house once and for all. Even after that, her mother says her it is not a big deal and asks her to apologize and go back to her in-laws. But the wife refuses. She goes about her life to get a job as a dance teacher. The husband is not changed at all. Later after marrying another woman, we can see him leaving the teacup by the washbasin instead of rinsing it.
Some of the important scenes in the movie are:
· The scene where a girl child approaches the wife, even when she is on her period because she has not yet been exposed to any stigma the society has.
· The scene where a girl speaks about women’s empowerment as she prepares for a school drama.
· The scene where the wife shouts at her little brother who asks his sister to bring water instead of getting it himself.
· The scenes which shows how the elder women of the movie are so in with patriarchy that none of them understands the wife’s problems.
This movie strikes hard at so many things we see as the norm in the patriarchal Indian society. I am happy to have seen this movie and feel the emotions it makes me feel. I will try to make sure hereafter that no woman on my watch becomes a victim of patriarchy. This movie has changed me and believe me it will change you as well.
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