A movie that talks about the daily routine of a woman? How cliché! Why should we even talk about it as we witness it every day in front of our eyes? Why should we even bother? What can we do by watching such a movie?
If you have all these curiosities, spare 1 hour and 40 minutes of your time watching The Great Indian Kitchen rather than witnessing injustices for a lifetime. It is a movie that exposes the deep patriarchal roots in our society. Although when women see the movie, they might find this to be a normal course in their lives — something they might have experienced first-hand or seen elsewhere.
The aroma of patriarchy spread across the kitchen as the unnamed protagonists represented the entire society. The Sabarimala case was shown with the utmost dignity and ironically how people dealt with Menstruation at the same time when the Supreme Court permitted the entry of women into the temple.
How can one gender oppress another in the matter of a natural process? Wait, did I say one gender? This movie displayed how women turn against their being, suppress and demean other women without even realising what impact it can leave on them. Let’s start talking about menstruation then.
Menstrual Hygiene Practices have been linked to the purity-impurity complex since the time people misunderstood that the age-old practices (restrictions) were meant to make menstruating individuals relieve their pain and take rest to heal themselves.
Over the years, people misunderstood the entire concept and associated it with “being impure“, depicted in the movie in various instances. She was not allowed to sleep on the bed even though she had access to the bed (role of women in passing erroneous values to the next generation). When she had put her undergarments to dry outside, another female argued that the undergarments should be hung in the backyard.
She was not allowed to cook, touch anything, come out of her room (room arrest?), look directly at male members or come near them, or touch them. The “holy” man suggested that “the touch of a menstruating lady is impure, one should swallow fresh cow dung, purify oneself with drinking cow dung water”, but they bargained and compromised with just taking a bath in the river— such hypocrisy. Worse was when she was taunted for touching a Tulsi plant because she was feeling sick.
How sick is society to delve upon such thoughts? One can argue that this thought process cannot disappear into thin air overnight, but what stops us from trying? Behavioural change can take place over time and it must start at some point in time. We must understand that Menstruation is the reason why any person exists right now.
The other part of the movie showed how male members ignored the unpaid labour done by women. She picked up their leftovers every time they had their food. When she jokingly talked about his well-behaved manners in a restaurant, he asked her to apologise for his fault. Ironic.
She washed dishes, dealt with the leakage, asked her husband several times to contact the plumber, but to no avail. Then she washed clothes by hand because the father-in-law suggested clothes do not get clean in a washing machine. I wonder what that washing machine is used for.
Similarly, she had to grate coconut by hand because the chutney from the blender did not satiate their palate. She cleaned the house and did everything society expects women to do. But when she asked a simple question of whether she could apply for a job interview for a dance teacher, they blatantly refused, saying, “That won’t suit us.”
I have one question, what is suitable? He can’t even take his toothbrush for brushing his teeth. Before going out of the house, his wife brings out his shoes for him. Is that suitable?
The other area explored in the movie was consent. So, what is consent? In simple language, it means approval. How difficult is it to understand when a person says “no” to something they don’t want to do? Well, can I discuss consent in a space where marital rape is not considered a criminal offence?
I’ll let you ponder this thought and talk about a similar topic: the sexual desires of women. When the female lead raised a genuine concern that it hurts when they have intercourse, she suggests foreplay. The sickening reply from the other side was, “I should feel something towards you, for foreplay.”
This statement was not because he did not feel anything. He said it because a woman stood up for her sexual desires. What is so abnormal in having sexual desires? Women having sexual desires are often judged and then the hoax concept of “virginity” comes into the picture.
The misconception that society has created for women is that if she quietly accepts all the advances, all the desires of men without having her own, she is considered a “good-mannered” woman. Otherwise, they have “glorious” terms to describe women — which are demeaning in reality.
The ending of the movie was simple — what needed to be done was done. She left the “haunted” house to pursue her dream of becoming a dance teacher. Her students danced gracefully to the song of all struggles that every woman goes through in society but rises eventually, just like she did.
The other side depicted that the vicious cycle gets repeated because there is a lack of empathy towards women in general. The person who was preaching a class full of students about family values himself lacks those.
Whether it be any gender, religion, caste or creed, instilling proper behaviour and attitude in children is important. Children imbibe what they see adults are doing. The mother plays the main role in nurturing a child, right?
Why can’t a father do that? Talk to his children about unpaid labour and learn household chores while talking about menstruation and sex education. Why the burden on women to nurture?
And women should impart correct knowledge, attitude and practices about menstruation and sex education. If they consider these things as an offence to speak freely, it’s not going to help. It will pass down to many more generations to come. If she is aware that she can talk to her children about menstruation, sex education, marital rape, unpaid labour, etc., she can do wonders.
There’s a fine line between schooling, educating and learning. Let’s encourage a positive environment for learning.
This article is based on the Malayalam movie The Great Indian Kitchen starring Nimisha Sajayan and Suraj Venjaramoodu, directed by Jeo Baby.