[This post was originally published in a Marathi magazine called Palakneeti, published from Pune. You can read the original post on the magazine’s free online version here]
Once upon a time there is this beautiful girl – educated, trained in Indian classical dance, an expert at cooking; and as she grew up in a gulf country, street-smart, too! Because of all these qualities, she is deemed to be a perfect arranged match for the son of a renowned family in Kerala. The prospective bride and groom meet and talk (well, it’s more like stare shyly/ awkwardly at each other and exchange pleasantries –Are we shameless or what to get over-friendly on our first meeting!), while the guests are entertained with mouth-watering snacks (all made fresh and from scratch, of course!).
Everyone is happy about everything, and thus, the wedding happens in great pomp and ardor. The new bride enters the big, traditional family home of her husband, complete with a tiled roof and a courtyard, and gets to know her abode and her world. It’s the first day, and everything seems so nice and new and gentile.
From the next day begins The Great Indian Kitchen! The husband enters the kitchen to have his morning tea, and flirts with the new wife, showers praises on the hot cup of tea she hands him, and leaves the empty cup for her to wash and walks out.
The elated wife washes the cup and leaves it to dry. Afterwards, her calm-and-composed, hardworking mother-in-law starts her training. They start at the beginning – breakfast! On the menu are hot and crispy Dosas with Sambar – along with a coconut chutney made from scratch, on a grinding stone okay! Those stupid mixer-grinders and ridiculous electric tools can never beat the authentic taste of the traditional stone! Then they proceed to lunch: the menu is pretty simple, just everyday fare, but made fresh and flavorful. And yes, rice cooked over an open flame – oh it is so tasty! How can we serve that mushy pressure-cooked rice to our men? And for dinner we have to make Rotis! After a long day at work, don’t the men deserve a delicious and filling square meal! In addition to this, the mother-in-law also initiates the daughter-in-law into dish-cleaning, table-wiping, sweeping and mopping, and other sundry rituals of the family. At the end of the day, after performing all these chores, the poor exhausted girl still satisfies her husband’s needs before falling asleep. Can the life of an ideal Indian woman get any more fulfilling than this??
After a while, the mother-in-law shifts abroad to help out her daughter after the delivery of her child. All the chores of the house are obviously left to the daughter-in-law. And no, we don’t believe in hiring help – firstly, how much work can there be with just 3 people in the house? And of course a maid can never perform her duties as well as the woman of the house! That’s why we have also kept the washing machine in storage – imagine spoiling our good quality clothes using a washing machine! We are rich (we straightaway told the hopeful daughter-in-law that she can’t get a job because we are well-to-do), but also conscientious – money doesn’t grow on trees, after all!
However, we are SO very understanding during the daughter-in-law’s menstrual cycle! Not only do we not make her do any housework, but we also don’t even see her face or disturb her during the 4-5 days! Talk about her sheer fortune, huh!
The movie then goes on to show what happens later in this very fortunate daughter-in-law’s life (kitchen). If you have gotten the sarcastic tone of this review, know that what I am saying next is very sincere: I loved this movie! It has been a while since I watched such an entertaining but though-provoking (and chilling) Indian movie. It is hard to underline the disbalance of power in Indian society using simple day-to-day routines, but the director, Jeo Baby, has managed doing it quite well. This particular film unfolds in Kerala, but substitute Dosa with Chhole Bhature or Kande Pohe, and it represents any and every region of India. Even urban women employed outside their homes, who have modern mixer-grinders, ovens, air-fryers, and any such equipment at their disposal, go through the drama of “The Great Indian Kitchen” regularly. “You are free to achieve whatever you want, as long as your home comes first” is a motto forced upon women working even at the very highest positions and ranks. We are divided over religion, region, caste, economic status, and whatnot, but we are united in claiming that “nothing can surpass the taste of the food cooked by our moms!” And we do so with pride, never once thinking about the pressure we put on them and all our female relatives, and the difficult positions we put them into.
Without giving away any spoilers, I would also like to highlight the role of a bride’s parents in ensuring her “smooth” transition into these great Indian kitchens. Really, parents? Really? You raise a daughter with all your heart, only to do this?
The acting in the movie is top-notch, and the actors seem so natural that the movie might very well be happening in your neighborhood. The music is very effective too. When things come to a head in the movie, they have the backdrop of a religious ceremony where a very haunting bhajan is being sung. The pitch and tempo of this bhajan increase along with the daughter-in-law’s patience, and it all comes crashing down, together. Very apt!
If I had to criticize something in the movie, it would be its initial pace. To highlight the everyday gargantuan routine, similar scenes have been repeated quite a few times. This might even be intentional – we get bored watching a few minutes of these scenes, but women do it their whole life, don’t they!
And thus coming back to the movie, of course women handle house-hold duties all their life, and triumphantly at that! So what if this woman couldn’t handle them? She was undeserving of the honor of being the daughter-in-law of this family anyway! This is what happens when girls are raised abroad and are given undue freedom! Good riddance we say! Our son will have a hundred alliances lined up; and he will be married before you know it.
A better bride will arrive, the son will praise her tea too, and leave his cup on the counter. The new wife will happily wash it. Or will she? To find out, be sure to watch this movie and obviously the great Indian kitchen saga!