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Film review: Kitchen chronicles and adjusting to the table manners of a typical Indian household

'The Great Indian Kitchen' holds up a mirror to everything that's wrong with the gender equation in traditional Indian homes and marriages. Fair warning: Don't eat while watching it.

April 17, 2021 / 09:44 PM IST
Suraj Venjaramood (left) and Nimisha Sajayan in 'The Great Indian Kitchen'.

Suraj Venjaramood (left) and Nimisha Sajayan in 'The Great Indian Kitchen'.

‘My house!’ exclaims the man who teaches young women the importance of family, ‘I will eat and throw chewed up moringa as I want. Don’t teach me manners!’

Let me bet you in bitcoins that you have seen men in your family belch, fart, and eat like manners are alien to them just because they’re on home turf, have eaten so much that the women of the house (who eat after the men and children have been served) end up making do because no one asked them if there was any food left for them. I have seen aunts who reheat leftover food from the refrigerator simply because ‘everyone loved the food we made’.

I watched The Great Indian Kitchen on Amazon Prime Video like most of you watch your favourite IPL team drop catches. I cursed at the TV loudly and refrained from throwing my cup of tea at the cousin who visited this household and told the new bride - exhausted from her day - how black tea isn’t tea unless cardamom, cloves and cinnamon are added.

Warning: Do not eat while watching the film. Although the new bride takes over the kitchen, because she’s well brought up and fits well in this ‘prestigious’ family, when the mother-in-law goes away with bags of home ground spices to help her pregnant daughter, you know at some point the pressure cooker is going to burst. You want it to burst.


The new bride discovers that the father-in-law is so used to his wife doing everything for him, he won’t even get up to get his own toothbrush!

Will she jam that toothbrush in his gob, you wonder. But then you see the docile bride make breakfast from scratch, do the dishes, sweep, mop, make lunch from scratch, do the washing by hand (because ‘clothes don’t last in the washing machine’), make dinner (no rice again, we need ‘chapatis’ for dinner), clean up everything afterwards and when her hands don’t stop smelling of dishes, put up with her husband’s lovemaking.

‘It hurts every time,’ the new wife says, 'could you...foreplay?’

It was like watching your favourite batsman’s helicopter shot going over the boundary for a six.

The result is expected. It hurts the man’s pride, and he’s happy to taunt. ‘I don’t feel enough for you to foreplay.’

The land of kamasutra has generations of men who think they’re entitled to rage at Kiara Advani in Lust Stories (on Netflix) because they grew up being called ‘raja beta’ and nobody was supposed to find fault with anything they did. Speaking of this entitlement, you must watch Spike Lee’s brilliant film Chi-raq (also on Amazon Prime Video). A group of African American women in Chicago, fed up of their boyfriends, husbands and sons dying of gun violence, decide to teach the men a lesson: I will deny all access and entrance… because the men won’t give up their guns.

But there’s no sisterhood that will help our heroine. In fact, you want all the other women in the movie - the mom, the mother-in-law, the aunt - to understand that by telling the bride ‘to adjust’ they’re pushing her into a life that’s just awful. No one comes to her aid when the bride is told off: I thought I told you that you will not be allowed to work after marriage, then why did you apply for a job?

There is so much the film says without telling us that the story of this kitchen is as rancid as the dining scraps she has to throw away in a pit.

Periods again

Just when your government claims that having Akshay Kumar build a toilet inside the house in a movie and make sanitary napkins for his wife in another would make everyone believe that the ‘problem’ was solved, out comes a belief system that won’t go away: do not enter the kitchen because you are menstruating and therefore impure.

Cleverly juxtaposed with the men in the family deciding to go on a pilgrimage to the Ayyappa Temple (a deity who is a brahmachari and so no women of reproductive age are allowed to visit). While the telly mentions the uproar that became the women’s right to pray movement (which the Constitution upheld), we watch the bride now relegated to a room where she stays for five days, banished because she’s having her period. And when she’s out, get back into the kitchen to cook, and also make sure the men do not see her, or touch her…

For a temple town that has more sex workers for the hoards emerging after the pilgrimage, the hypocrisy of this next scene is astounding. I watched the husband fall off his scooter and the bride rushing to help him. It’s instinctive, no? But then, the husband calls the priest who tells him to take a bath in the river because a menstruating woman touched him!

Remember the award winning Iranian film A Separation? In that film, the very religious woman who works as a caregiver to an invalid old man calls the religious hotline to ask if it was allowed to help clean a man (he’s soiled himself and has fallen off the bed) not related to her.

I wonder who makes these rules? And who dares clean our collective kitchen sinks clogged up with such beliefs?

Of course, everyone knows that some men are genuine partners in their home. But if you see men say, ‘I offered to make but she won’t let me near the kitchen’, you will know exactly why when you see what the cousin does to our bride’s kitchen when he makes dinner.

I have seen women deny themselves a food processor because ‘atta must be kneaded by hand’ and I’ve seen women in the same situation as the bride. Suraj Venjaramoodu who plays the husband and T. Suresh Babu who plays the father are so naturally villainous you want the bride (Nimisha Sajayan) to do them in! Does she? The poet Menka Shivdasani compares the art of chopping lettuce in the lovely poem Why Rabbits Never Sleep, ‘A nazi who invited a prisoner for lunch and demonstrated the art of cutting carrots... Chop, chop!’

The Great Indian Kitchen is like finding long-forgotten leftovers from your good times in the fridge. It’s fungus infested and looks like something evil. It smells hellish too and you have to throw it away immediately. As you cover your nose, you wonder why you saved it…
Manisha Lakhe is a poet, film critic, traveller, founder of Caferati — an online writer’s forum, hosts Mumbai’s oldest open mic, and teaches advertising, films and communication.

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