I waited for the release of The Great Indian Kitchen with cautious optimism but it eventually became my favourite film of 2021 so far for the following reasons. Director Jeo Baby deftly employs the words "The Great Indian" to expose how little, in fact, the Indian kitchen really is. Focussing on a handful of characters drawn from real life, the movie effectively communicates the ideas it intended to. If 21st-century Kerala after the Sabarimala verdict is the timestamp, then an upper-caste ancestral house, with an emphasis on its kitchen, is the locus through which this social drama unfolds. The story had "rebellion" written all over it. This was visible right from the beginning when Science was thanked instead of God, alluding to the oncoming undermining of the latter.
The lyrics of the opening and closing songs, written by Mridula Devi S, reveal to us the beauty of the neglected Paluva language spoken by the Paraya Dalit caste. A small but noteworthy step towards inclusion! The story is simple yet superimposed at once. Instead of wilfully pirouetting every day in her dance class, a woman gets hitched and goes on a head-spinning journey into the world of a hidebound man and his anachronistic universe. How she walks out audaciously, on the back of personal enlightenment, after enduring a torture of sorts, forms the climax of the film. The movie reveals the backbreaking and nauseating behind-the-scene intricacies involved in cooking, obscured in real life by food porn, in a manner that evokes empathy and food for thought simultaneously.
The numerous long takes, the god's-eye-view shots and the real sounds emanating from the kitchen, created by cinematographer Salu K Thomas, and Thomas Ajay Abraham and the sound team respectively, add immense value to the movie. The Great Indian Kitchen is a study on intersectionality disguised as a movie. It effectively throws searching questions at the hidden perils of arranged marriage, the sexual division of labour, love for tradition, casual mansplaining, the false narrative on menstruation, and the need for consent and foreplay, which are all part of the feminist zeitgeist of our times. Juxtaposing the way the wife and the mother-in-law negotiate time, work and leisure everyday with the pleasure-loving males in the household helps us comprehend the gravity of this patriarchal injustice instantly.
The bangles decorating the women's hands are golden handcuffs in reality. A milk bottle resting besides a closed door connotes the latter as a barrier separating the pure white milk from the bleeding and "impure" woman at the other end. Likewise, the clogged sink, soiled plates, empty trash tray and leaking pipe allude to the ugly truths hidden with glee by patriarchy. In an astoundingly effective montage scene, accompanied by all kinds of sounds associated with kitchen, the camera tracks the family photos of different generations, hanging on the wall, revealing an interconnected and unending story of modern-day slavery and unpaid labour experienced by all the women in the household from the sepia-tinted times to the technologically-driven digital epoch of today.
Jump cuts contrasting filthy images and exaggerated sounds from the kitchen when the couple copulates highlight the disturbed state of mind of the wife, enduring marital rape every night. The crisp editing of Francies Louis stands out. The icing on the cake was the effortless blending of a social issue that polarised the society of Kerala towards the climax. After audaciously polluting the men, she walks out towards freedom. The director deserves a round of applause for handling a political hot potato without any cinematic compromises. The Great Indian Kitchen is a filmmaker's bible to make movies in a post-COVID-19 world.