The Great Indian Kitchen (2021) – The Ending Satisfies The Frustration

So, I am back watching Indian films. Maybe it is the current winter holiday’s, the change of scenery and the atmosphere but I am back at it. This movie was many times said to be one the best of the year from Malayalam cinema and I can see why.

As the title says I found this film frustrating, but it is on purpose and the ending makes up for it. If suggest you watch this movie after eating or while eating something, it is one of those “food” movies, which means you will get hungry by just watching the film.

Plot Summary:

The Unnamed Protagonist (named only as Wife) gets married into a very traditional family from a good background. At first things are sweet, the Husband (named only as such) treats her well as they are in their Honeymoon phase. She does everything to please her husband and father-in-law and to be a good wife; cooking, cleaning, washing from morning to night. As time wares on, the Wife becomes more and more frustrated with the amount of tasks she is given and the lack of satisfaction and consideration given to her. All the while the men go about their day doing as little as possible. Even politics soon become mixed in this milieu, as the verdict that menstruation is not a crime and should not be treated as such in life comes into play.

Spoilers oncoming!

Nimisha Sajayan as the Wife, with her smallest gestures and expressions makes you easily feel how her character does. The routine that soon wears you down in the name of tradition, trying to submit you into a position you do not truly desire. Her not having a name makes her both a representation of all the wives who are stuck in unsatisfying, unhappy marriages and the role society has placed on her. “Wife” is as much of a title as it is a role. The conservative ideal of it means that she is the servant in the household, cooking, cleaning and eventually having babies. She eats only when the men have finished eating on a dirty table, even though she did the most work for the food. The household is theory hers to command, but the final say is her husband’s. The Wife in this, even without a name, has a voice and an opinion and desires, but the highly conservative ideals of her husband and his family do not allow her to be anything but a maid.

Suraj Venjaramoodu as the Husband truly embodies everything wrong with the Patriarchy with his casual sexism and subtle kind words that are only meant to distract his Wife from straying from her her supposed “duties”. Inside the house he is a slob, while outside in a restaurant he acts accordingly. He, his father and family are men who reveal goddesses, visit priests and go on pilgrimages, but they’re acts on those below them are anything but holy. Thus showing the hypocrisy of their actions. When a family friend member suggests to make a correct black tea to the Wife, he ends up making the tea himself and leaving a mess behind which she has to clean. These men only think about the cooking, which serves them, but not about the cleaning and washing afterwards. It is a family problem as much as a personal one with the members of the Husband’s family, coming from the top down and hurting every woman on the way.

The film reminded me of Chantal Akerman’s Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles or just Jeanne Dielman (1975) where a wife goes about her duties until one day she things go wrong and she snaps. The slow, monotonous pace of the everyday tasks, where we see it all. The waste that gathers, the fire that burns in the stove, washing the dishes, the constant work and toil, while not being able to fully enjoy it. Even if the duties of cooking and cleaning start as relaxing or just mundane at first, it becomes clear that the one doing the most work is the least regarded and rewarded.

Then, when the only time the Wife is allowed to “relax” is during her menstruation period, where the family makes her sit on a mat on the floor and not meet everyone. She is shut inside without anything to do, except to watch videos on Facebook, which she uses as a way to rebel against her husband’s highly conservative family. She shares a post in support of the law that deems menstruation not against the law and should not be discriminated against. Her husband vandalises the woman’s property and when he is made aware that the Wife shared the post he asks her, in quiet fury, to delete it. She throws his “traditions” back in his face when she mentions that he cannot even look at her while she is on her period, thus he cannot force her to delete the picture either since he cannot (and will not) enter her room. Even during this period it is made clear that all they want is a maid, except one who will do her “wifely duties” with no satisfaction of her own and to treat the men as if they were gods. They have a maid and a family member come help with cooking and cleaning and there is nothing different, only the person doing the duties.

These kinds of small rebellions slowly culminate, as the Wife becomes more and more aware of her situation. From serving reheated food to her husband and father-in-law after they have come from a pilgrimage, to putting her underclothes to dry where people can see them, sharing the Facebook video, until it finally culminates in her throwing the dirty dishwater in her husband’s and father-in-law’s face as they have holy men visiting them and locking them inside the kitchen. It is so satisfying to see!!

The ending, with her finally teaching dance as she always wanted is a warm feeling to leave on. The thing she wanted from the start, but her ex-husband and father-in-law objected to it, since they thought she was better to stay inside the house to serve them, like a maid. The film could end with that triumphant note, in a way it does, except for the scene with her ex-husband now with a new wife who he charms the same way he did his first. She is happy cooking and he drinks from the cup, placing it down on the kitchen table once he is finished. He leaves with sweet words and his new wife takes the mug and washes it. Thus, the cycle repeats again.

This cycle of both societal and personal is a theme. These men had to be brought up to think like this and they have friends who also think like them. They are at the top of the “food chain”, treating everyone beneath them with inconsideration and will not change their ways. Society will move forward, as it always does, but it also has to come from the individual to change and to treat each other with respect and dignity.

Thank you for reading!

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