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The Great Indian Kitchen cooks a dish you cannot ignore!

There were times when you could figure out a Malayali man on the street from the curly hair, the dense moustache or the smell of rancid coconut oil. Or the comb in the back pocket. But those are only the outward symbols. There are two actions that denote his inner self. The flick of the wrist with which the mundu folds up in a trice and the hands go akimbo is one. The other one that has always intrigued me is how the hand extends over the head and pulls up the collar and shuffles it a little. The face turns to you and the insolent stare makes you feel like a worm. And that’s the innate sense of patriarchy that is so inherent to the Malayali male. I have often talked about movies that creep up on you innocently and then grip you with a vice-like grip that leaves you gasping.

Well, here is a movie that creeps up on you for sure, but ends up slapping you squarely across the face and leaves you running for cover. ASHOK’s FIVE reviews #TheGreatIndianKitchen now streaming on the #Neestream platform. If you are even remotely a move buff, I would advise you to drop whatever it is that you are doing and watch this movie. It will shake you up. #TheGreatIndianKitchen has three distinct parts to it. The first one is a series of jump cuts where the characters played by #NimishaSajayan and #SurajVenjaramood meet in a typical ‘penn kaanal’ and get married. In a blink-and-you-miss set of cuts, they get married and go to bed. She ends up in the kitchen and then it all starts. The second stretch is a series of cuts, thrusts, vessels, fire and food preparation scenes that play over and over again, leaving you numbed. It is agonising mind paralysis but never boring and makes you feel very uncomfortable. And then there is the final fifteen minutes or so that come alive in a powerful display of revolt that lets you free almost orgasmically.

You almost feel relieved that it is over! Director #Jeobaby puts together a powerful story of women’s emancipation. The film is not just done well; there are so many nuances that it is a reviewer’s veritable delight! The first thing that struck me is how well thought through the screenplay is. You should watch out for the following scenes. First is the manner in which the woman spends all her time cooking and then there is this sequence of carrying the food in casseroles to the table, serving the husband and father-in-law, serving coffee cleaning up the table, carrying it all back, throwing the garbage out, cleaning the sink and the slab and when it's all over, its bloody time to start preparing the next meal. In between all this, she is seen washing clothes, sweeping the courtyard and mopping the steps. This is no wife; it is not even domestic help; she is there like slave labour. And the irony is that her role in bed is also just that! The other scene is where #SurajVenjaramood demonstrates how his histrionic skills are top-notch.

In the restaurant, he reacts with controlled fury when his wife taunts him about the lack of table manners. I almost felt that the acting honours should go to Suraj for that fantastic portrayal of the self-indignant, sarcastic male-chaunivist husband. In the restaurant, he speaks very little; his eyes and his body language communicate malicious rage that is just so fabulous. I also loved the scene where she walks out of the house and walks past several houses with the sea in the backdrop. The claustrophobic kitchen almost seems like an antithesis to the open sea. It is almost like you can savour the salty air of the sea in that scene. Cinematographer #SaluKThomas uses unusual camera angles and jerky movements to disquiet the audience and leaves them unsettled. Some scenes have an almost unbearable quotient. Patriarchy is Kerala’s best kept secret. Behind the facade of hundred percent literacy and absence of food scarcity lies a festering legacy of second-class treatment for women. #JeoBaby’s men characters are not loud, not violent and are almost soft-spoken to a fault. The girl has been brought up in the gulf and the ‘tharavad’ into which she is married thinks that might be the reason she is ignorant of the customs. Some of the customs have religious and cultural legacy but the individual idiosyncrasies are just shenanigans of a patriarchal mind. The girl is expected to work like bonded labour on other days. On the red days, she is confined to a room and she cannot step even on to the shadow of other family members. The scene where she refuses to delete the post on facebook is ironic. Her husband threatens her with violence but she taunts him on the basis of the same ‘rule’.

Both the father and son are at their irritating best as they chew on the veggies and chicken pieces and think nothing of making a mess of the table. The father-in-law will eat only if the rice is cooked on a fire and not in a pressure cooker. He wants his clothes to be washed by hand and not in the washing machine. Friends and colleagues at the school (where the husband works) try and provide sane advice saying times have changed but to no avail. He is seen doing his yoga routines and does not think about helping his wife at the household chores. #TSureshBabu plays the father-in-law who needs the womenfolk to not just carry his sandals but even squeeze the paste on to his toothbrush! And all he does the entire day is to lounge around fiddling with his mobile phone! Men do work through their career and then retire, but women never ever do retire! The husband teaches sociology and ironically enough, is seen expounding on the dynamics of a family unit. The menfolk believe that the daughter-in-law should not be working and disillusion her with regard to her dreams of becoming a dance teacher. The husband’s attitude is also showcased in as much as he refuses to do anything about the leaky pipe in the kitchen and leaves it to his wife to figure out what needs to be done. The manner in which her husband makes her say Sorry for the transgression at the restaurant and the manner in which he grinds her under the proverbial heel on the matter of table manners is brilliantly done. For me, the movie ended in the scene where she throws the garbage water at her husband and father-in-law.

However, the last ten minutes or so are a bit of a drag as the film moves from one woman’s story and champions the cause of all womanhood. I also found the refreshing take on the Sabarimala facade very fearless and interesting. Menfolk make it a big deal and the religious symbolism around it is so parochial that it is nauseating. I think #TheGreatIndianKitchen treats issues around women’s emancipation in a bold and forthright manner and throws away the kid-gloves. The treatment of sexuality, menstruation and career choices are dealt with deftly but impactfully. Amidst all this, there is the maid of the household who performs her duties with a song on her lips She does not reveal her periods and hoodwinks the households where she works. According to Baby, that's the politics of the movie.

The title of the film is intriguing and does not reveal the ticking time bomb inside. I watched the film and noticed a seething anger building up. This is one film that can make your blood boil. For the critic inside me though, the best scene is the one where the makers eschew background music to just play the noises of cooking and cleaning inside the kitchen. The visuals dwell on the photographs of couples who would have lived in the house across generations. A beautiful motif of how the feudal patriarchy has been prevalent over generations!

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