Finding a film to relate to can be difficult when you’re living outside of the country you were born in, especially if you’ve been struggling to straddle two distinctly opposing cultures. As Hollywood slowly starts to give platforms to voices outside of the norm, it increases the thirst to find stories made by, and starring, people who look like you. The Great Indian Kitchen gave Malayalee women around the world their representation. To be clear, not every Malayalee woman has the same experiences as the young woman at the centre of the film. However, she does represent the societal conventions they all have to live with, no matter how culturally or geographically distant they are from their homeland. The film incited intergenerational conversations about the role of women in South Indian society and how attitudes are slowly progressing. It follows a couple soon after their marriage and focuses on the wife as she slowly adjusts to her new life.
The genius and torture of the film is in its simplicity. For the first half of the film, all the audience predominantly sees is the woman completing various household chores over and over and over again. Whilst this doesn’t seem like it would be a captivating watch, it actually becomes impossible to look away. As the anger builds in the young woman of being restricted within the role society has thrust upon her, the audience too begins to build up their own anger. Every plate she washes, every dish she cooks and every unreasonable request from her father-in-law become angry bees stinging the audience over and over again. In addition to this, each day shows a new level of inequality that the young woman has to face. Each month during her period she is restricted to one room in the house and not allowed to interact with anyone else. Her father-in-law does not allow her to apply for a job, stating that ‘it isn’t done in a family like theirs.’ Her mother scolds her for complaining about doing household chores without being allowed to have a job. Instead, she tells her she should feel lucky for having married into such a good family. Her husband gets angry and slut shames her when she says that foreplay might help with the pain she’s experiencing during intercourse. Every aspect of a woman’s life from menstruation to work to sex to independence is cleverly critiqued and dissected through simply showing her everyday routine repeatedly. If anything, it emphasises that microaggressions and everyday sexism is so prevalent yet so invisible.
The role of the previous generation of women in this film is fascinating. It could have been less authentic to blame it on the men who overtly restrict the independence of women in their household. Instead, we see how the attitudes of women in older generations can also perpetuate the sexist behaviour they once faced. The film is sympathetic in this way; it can be difficult to know that something is wrong when the society you grew up in has constantly told you the opposite. However, it also shows that we all have a responsibility to each other. It is not only men, not only older generations, but our current generation that needs to stand up and fight for equality. Through snippets of news and Facebook posts, the film shows the cultural shift happening in India right now in terms of gender equality. In a country with such a diverse population, in addition to the sprawling Indian diaspora around the world, there are several conflicting opinions and experiences. However, films like this show that one individual’s action can slowly make way for much-needed progression in a society that is clearly calling out for one. It fights back against stereotypes of Indian culture and stories represented in the media and, instead, shows the true complexities and beauty of a nation and its people.
The Great Indian Kitchen is available to stream on NeeStream now
by Aleena Augustine
Aleena is a Classics graduate who splits her time between High Wycombe and wherever the latest film or TV show she is bingeing is set. She enjoys watching rom-coms, coming of age films, animations and comedies featuring a strong female ensemble (thank you, Bridesmaids). Her favourite films are Before Sunrise, Inside Out, Zodiac and When Harry Met Sally. You can read her blog, That’s What She Said and more of her writing at Music Bloggery.