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Can the unnamed but spunky heroine of The Great Indian Kitchen help to finally put away all the adarsh naaris on the Indian screen, like Suman from Maine Pyar Kiya?
I was 16 when Maine Pyaar Kiya was released and declared a monster hit 32 years ago. Consequently, I still view it with some amount of nostalgia-induced generosity.
In the film, the hindrance to the love of Prem (Salman, who begins the film with a hairy chest, but mysteriously, by the middle of the film becomes as hairless as a baby) and Suman (Bhagyashree) is Kishan Kumar (Rajeev Verma), the arrogant, nouveau-riche father of Prem. Kishen Kumar is misguided by his charlatan friend Ranjeet into shaming his childhood friend the ‘upright’ but poor Babuji (Alok Nath) of Suman. Fortunately, everything is brought to a happy ending by a loyal and quick-witted pigeon.
While the film still retains some of its original sweetness vastly due to the earnestness of the debut team of director and lead actors, the smile playing on my lips quickly turned into a tight-lipped grimace as I watched this song.
Aaja Shaam Hone Aayi plays just after Suman and Prem acknowledge their love for each other. Prem wants to take Suman out for their first date and Suman is as eager and excited, but first
~ she has fry the pooris,
~ then the kachoris,
~ make a sabzi that may or may not feature carrots,
~ then she has to shell the peas because it’s a full moon night and
~ Prem’s mother has invited all the neighborhood women for a mysterious pooja that requires shelled peas.
In the meanwhile, Prem
~ preens on the bonnet of his car,
~ drinks several bottles of strategically placed Thums-up
~ plays the saxophone saxily and
~ keeps wheedling Suman (via song) to ‘come soon yaar’.
In a house full to the brim with staff, Suman, a guest, has to do everything, because she is sweet that way. A good girl, adarsh bahu material, exactly what the heroine of a Bollywood film must be like.
Even though Prem can see that his girlfriend is busy, and is not procrastinating or leading him on, it doesn’t occur to him for a second that if he were to help her, they might actually get it done in half the time and be on their way. After doing all the chores and getting dressed up for the date, Suman is ultimately held back by Prem’s mother, and Prem has the audacity to sulk. As though Suman had a choice.
The thing is, had Suman actually told everyone to go fuck themselves with the frying pan, and leave on that date with Prem, she would not in fact be the girl of his dreams, the one with long hair, the one who wears only salwar kameezes, the one who shells peas in orgasmic rapture, the one who is respectful to elders, courteous to her peers, and loving towards her juniors.
How do we know that? Suman’s antithesis in the film is the ‘vampy’ Seema (Pervin Dastur), the charlatan friend Ranjeet’s daughter. She strides around in short, tight dresses, has a trendy perm, tries to seduce Prem, and gasp works for a living. She is constantly body-shamed and disrespected by both Prem and his friend Manohar (Laxmikant Berde) merely because she expresses her desire for Prem openly.
The only time Suman is ‘allowed’ to be sexy is when she is wearing clothes gifted to her by Prem.
On her birthday, during the course of another pretty song, Mere Rang Mein (above), a rip-off of the 1986 song Final Countdown by Europe (but much better than the original), Suman does a fashion show of the clothes. Among these is a very skimpy dress, the photograph of which we are shown repeatedly. Suman, even though deeply uncomfortable, agrees to wear it because the adarsh naari must at all times please her husband (to be, but according to old school Bollywood, love and marriage are synonymous).
We, the audience, don’t get to see Suman in the dress, she’s covered herself with a wrap and only drops it when off camera. But we do get to see an ugly plaster of Paris sculpture of a naked chick with erect nipples just to inform us that it is a very sexy dress and very sexy moment indeed. Once Suman has satisfied Prem’s creepy voyeurism, he covers her up with the wrap by way of his respect for her.
I know many of you are going to tell me that this film is 32-years-old, so dear feminazi, give it a rest and you’d be right to object, except a film from recent times came to mind right away as I watched Aaja Shaam Hone Aayi.
In the 2021 Malayalam film by Jeo Baby, The Great Indian Kitchen (TGIK), the female protagonist is shown slaving in the kitchen from morning to noon. She peels and chops and grinds and cooks, then she cleans up and finally even though she’s tired, she lies under her husband while he grinds into her, unaware or uncaring of the fact that the human being under him is deeply uncomfortable, in pain even.
Like Suman, the unnamed protagonist is an ideal daughter-in-law. Like Suman, she too has a mother-in-law who is supportive but without any real power to effect change. Like Prem in MPK, there are no expectations of the male protagonist of TGIK, he simply has to show up and demand to be served food or sex. The well-brought-up Suman of MPK doesn’t challenge the patriarch or the patriarchal structure of the Indian household and hence she manages to get the guy in the end and it’s ostensibly a happy ending with her trussed up as a bride, coyly clutching a glass of milk.
I don’t know if Bollywood films can be compared to the cinema that comes out of Kerala. But perhaps, if the beating wings of a small butterfly in New Mexico, USA can cause a cyclone in China, one small Malayalam film streamed on a hitherto unknown OTT platform can perhaps revolutionise the way women in Indian cinema are forced to conform to stereotype.
Unlike Prem of MPK, the ‘hero’ of TGIK is anything but heroic. He is a regular, entitled upper caste dude who is unwilling to let go of even a single privilege lest it inconvenience him. Much more importantly though, under the helm of the courageous director, Jeo Baby, we now have a heroine who is spunky and who wilfully smashes patriarchy, tradition, religion and her marriage as she marches into the sunset with complete ownership of her life and choices, none of which involve servitude in the guise of idealised womanhood.
Hema Gopinathan left a blight of a corporate career to homeschool her two children. A teacher trained in the Waldorf/ Rudolf Steiner pedagogy, a writer, an artist, a crocheter, Hema spends half her time in read more...
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When someone accuses you of "too much feminism", what they are really saying is, "I am uncomfortable with you challenging the status quo and disrupting my privilege".
Time and again, there is one phrase that keeps coming up in the social media discourse on feminism. Any guesses?
Ah, no prizes for guessing the infamous “itni bhi feminist” or “too much feminism” phrase, a classic eye-roller for me, and I am sure for many more of my tribe, in the realm of gender equality discussions.
Pray tell me, how can an ideology, a movement be too ‘much’? It’s not salt or the seasoning of your soup where you can go, “Oops, too much salt, only one spoon was required”. Either you stand for what feminism stands for, or you don’t.
Half a decade ago marriage was a bargain between two famlies. Most of the women were married off to a man who was either well off or who could fend for his wife and family. Today the parameters of marriage have changed. Women no longer marry for the sake of economic security. Their expectations from marriage have changed in the course of years because of their changed status.
As women grew independent, their patterns of choosing partners have changed dramatically. Now women choose men who they feel can satiate their emotional as well as physical needs. Intimacy is no longer the physicality that happened between two people under the supervision of elders of the family for the sole purpose of procreation. Intimacy in today’s marriages involve understanding and fulfilling each other’s emotional as well as sexual needs.
So before you decide to hook up see if you know these five things about intimacy.
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