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The hypocrisy of different standards for men and women, the social indoctrination of accepting this status quo as normal, boiling down to patriarchy in many homes; that is the essence of this movie.
I’ve not watched a Malayalam movie ever, but I was eager to watch The Great Indian Kitchen by Joe Baby.
The reviews are stellar. It is an almost silent movie with nameless protagonists, leaning on expression and action over dialogue. It is a story that speaks of the Indian household, the role of a woman, her identity attached to the kitchen and the expectations that are placed on her.
It’s a cry for help, to see women through the eyes of her chores and responsibilities, who don this role daily, without questioning its rightfulness.
And this role is not limited to that of a homemaker. Even working women accept their role as the chef of the family with compliance, making endless cups of tea, hot breakfast, packed lunch, coming back home after a long day to make a hot dinner, and doing the exact same thing the next day and the day after and the next week and the next month and a year and an entire lifetime.
Yes, men are helping out more these days, but those few learned men are the exceptions, not the norm. So please hold your comments of notallmen.
A woman’s place, whatever her achievements, seem linked to the kitchen. And it is not entirely men’s fault, a significant number of women, measure themselves by their accomplishment in the kitchen. Part of it could be the emphasis we place on food in our culture, it could also be the fact we need food at regular intervals to sustain ourselves and that creates this interdependency between the food creator and the consumer.
We remain a patriarchal society but there is an underlying matriarchal tone floating undetected, because what mother-in-law doesn’t impress her golden standard on the daughter-in-law? You would think a woman who walked in the same footsteps decades ago would be more empathetic to this new entrant, but more often this relationship is fraught with tension. To a new bride, this entire situation is too new to take a firm stand on and she remains the deer in the headlight, a silent victim.
For many lower/ middle-class households having a bhai or a cook may not be an option, their livelihood may allow them just enough to get through the month. For these women juggling the role of a cook, cleaner, carer is part of the job description. Watching a woman toil over a hot stove or bent in despair over a sinkful of vessels is not uncommon. Some women might take their exhaustion out on their children, the burden for caring becomes too heavy to bear.
But back to the movie – it shows an apparently happily married bride embracing her role in this family. Her love for dance is pushed aside to accommodate her new role as a wife and food creator. She works alongside her mother-in-law in unison, both exchanging looks of quiet fortitude. Maybe the girl sees her future in her mothers-in-law’s eyes.
The need for three course meals, fresh food at every meal, cleaning up after the mess are untold expectations placed squarely on her shoulders.
What kind of man doesn’t pick up his own plate after a meal? To think only the woman has to clean up after a meal may sound shocking in this day, but it still happens in some households. And this unpaid labour is worn like a badge of honor. Most women are given the title CEO of the house and her compensation is drawn through the collective sigh of appreciation at the dinner table and to think that, that is the only incentive that keeps her going makes you wonder how selfless women can be?
The protagonist in this story steadily loses the sparkle in her eyes as each day churns into another, of the same routine of being in charge of other people’s nutritional needs. Her body language shifts from one full of life and vigor to one of hopelessness and defeat. Her marital bed stops looking like one of consent and more of a claim. Her suggestions in the bedroom are taken as an affront. The man clearly knows it all.
The dignity of being acknowledged is never given permission. The husband speaks of equality outside the home but practices another in his turf. The hypocrisy of different standards for men, the social indoctrination of accepting this status quo as normal, all boils down to patriarchy and how steeped it is in some homes and culture, and that is the essence of this movie.
If you’ve seen the movie share your opinion. Many women have remarkably different lives to this scenario but many are still trapped in this regressive world and it is movies like this, that give men an alternative way to look at things and change the narrative. And if men want to be men and not shift from their sense of entitlement, then it at least holds a mirror up to women to look into their lives and see what their whole life resembles, and maybe find a way to change the story instead of spending an entire lifetime living a standard not of their own creation but one which society deemed right.
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Born in Hyderabad, lived in Singapore, based in Australia. A traveling spouse, a home maker
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