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Watching The Great Indian Kitchen made me realise how easily we have accepted patriarchy in our daily lives. But is there an end to it?
I watched the movie ‘Great Indian Kitchen.’ And it felt like looking at the daily life of every Indian woman, barring a few who belong to the privileged high class in our society.
This wasn’t because patriarchy doesn’t exist in the upper class, but it’s just that patriarchy takes a different form in different societal setup. And the one portrayed in this movie is the depiction of the type of patriarchy prevalent amongst the middle and lower sections of our society.
The story begins with the happy image of a girl dancing and sweating it out while her mother is preparing snacks in the kitchen. And that is the last shot, where she appears genuinely happy and respected.
As the movie progresses, she gets married to a guy from a ‘so-called’ renowned family. This family checks all the boxes any parent would look for while getting their daughter married.
The guy is a government employee with a secured job, the family has their own house, he is the only son and they are respected in society. So, it’s like a perfect match where the girl should feel grateful.
But here’s where the story takes a dark turn. We slowly see all the dreams and ambitions of the young bride being crushed gradually throughout the movie. Your obvious questions would be ‘why?’ ‘what happened?’ ‘Do they hit her?’ ‘Did they not take care of her basic needs?’ ‘Does he have an affair?’ ‘Do they pressure her for dowry?’
What if I say that the answer to all of these questions is ‘no’? However, what they don’t do is give her the due respect she deserves as a human.
Will this young bride’s distress attract the attention of people in our society? A society that still doesn’t feel the need for women to feel respected in their lives. The movie in its entirety speaks out loud the disrespect which we cause to a woman in daily life.
Once the marriage celebrations are over, the young bride joins her mother-in-law in the kitchen. Here she is made to understand that her responsibility is to ensure that all the male members of the family are happy. This basically involves feeding them properly, taking care of all their comforts and most importantly satisfying her husband in bed.
Generation after generation, this sense of duty towards the men of the family has been taught to women by their mother and mother-in-law. Today, it is so deeply embedded as part of the societal norm that it has become a way of living.
The concept that women will only live for others’ is so internalised that even if women feel the other way, guilt creeps upon them and they hesitates to tread their path. They are forced to follow the path defined by society and the burden of a sense of duty crumbles them.
As the story progresses, the mother-in-law leaves for her daughters’ place. Now, the young bride is left alone to struggle with her daily life, and the ugly face of patriarchy gets uncovered in every single shot. When the male members leave the dining table strewn with spit and leftover foods and the wife is expected to clean it. And when the husband ignores her request to mend the leaking sink.
It is shown when the wife cleans the overflowing wastebasket, as the husband indulges in daily yoga. And when the father-in-law disapproves of ready-made masala and pressure cooked rice which could have eased her workload. Also asking for foreplay before sex is reprimanded and declined by the husband. But the final nail in the coffin when she is expected to sleep on the floor during her menstruation cycle.
These instances are not out of a fictional movie, it is something that happens in almost every household. The young bride in the movie dared to break free of the shackles and refused to get burdened by the sense of duty that society taught her. But not every woman has the courage or mainly opportunity to do so.
I don’t know how many such movies will have to be made before we can break the hypocritical societal standards that have been set for decades. However, we can at least take this as a beginning.
Picture credits: Still from the 2021 film The Great Indian Kitchen
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