By Arré Bench Jan. 20, 2021
The Great Indian Kitchen delves into how patriarchy, tradition, and religion often intersect and strip away the agency of women after they get married. It’s yet another example of how regional cinema has succeeded in accurately portraying gender dynamics in our homes.
A recently released streaming offering has brought Twitter abuzz, and no, it’s not Tandav. Instead, an unassuming, low-budget Malayalam film called The Great Indian Kitchen is the latest OTT film to prove how some of Indian cinema’s choicest offerings often fly under the radar. Currently only available on the niche Malayalam streaming service Neestream, The Great Indian Kitchen is nonetheless worth seeking out for how it faithfully replicates the lived experiences of so many Indian women over the course of its runtime. Focusing on the domestic married life of its protagonist (played by Nimisha Sajayan), the film delves into how patriarchy, tradition, and religion often intersect and strip away the agency of independent women after they get married.
As a film, The Great Indian Kitchen is not exceptionally reliant on its plot. Instead, through scenes bursting with detail, director Jeo Baby takes the time to painstakingly create a portrait of his protagonist – her experiences, beliefs, and relationships and how they come together to chip away at her identity, day after day. Notably, this is not accomplished through sensational, heavy-handed storytelling. Instead, the film progresses at a languid pace, to the extent that some reviewers have even said that there “is no story to tell”. However, in its reconstruction of the scenarios that play out in millions of Indian homes across the country, The Great Indian Kitchen elicits an emotional reaction regardless. Despite its setting in Kerala, with the Sabarimala Temple’s decision to forbid women of menstruating age from visiting providing the context for some of the film’s events, The Great Indian Kitchen remains relatable to the experiences of women across the country.
From the character of the well-meaning husband who may not be as progressive as he thinks (brought to life by Suraj Venjaramoodu), to the notion that a woman must give up her career aspirations after she enters the married life, and the sheer mind-numbing, overwhelming number of the petty tasks that take up the time and energy of a homemaker in an Indian joint family, The Great Indian Kitchen’s protagonist could easily swap stories with the average Indian woman. Though the specifics might differ, at their core, many millions of women go through the same process of starting to feel less like an individual, and more like an accessory to an adoptive family after marriage.
Reviews for the film have been mostly appreciative. Anna MM Vetticad, writing for Firstpost, gave it 4.5 stars, while Manoj Kumar R gave it 4 stars for The Indian Express. Given how the film hasn’t landed on any of the major streaming platforms, like Netflix or Amazon Prime, it’s a shame that not more people will be able to watch The Great Indian Kitchen. It’s worth it – not just for the beautifully shot sequences of delicious Kerala cuisine but also for its reflection of the lives of so many Indian women.