Director Jio Baby’s The Great Indian Kitchen’ is a simple, sentimental, gripping, entertaining film based on a few contemporary social issues of Kerala. The cinematography comprised powerful images created with light and shadow and camera movement (Camera Salu K Thomas, Editing Luis) that essentially resonate with the context and philosophy of the theme. The protest shown in the movie surprised and touched the audience for its bold and believable presentation, though the entire protest turned out as ‘journalistic contemporary.’
The film starts with a dance sequence where the protagonist takes part as a team member, and the film ends with a dance sequence where she becomes the leader. This circular and flawless development portrayed the character’s growth and conveyed the film’s primary theme in an artistic and influential way. The city girl from an affluent urban family got married into a village-based wealthy family, frequently announced as a ‘prestigious family’ in several contexts. But the girl came out from that ‘prestigious house’ seeking freedom from the mental torture, physical suffering, and suffocating environment.
She suffered silently to the last moment, and wit reached the unbearable point she announced her revolt, that silently but with her action. She is Nora of Ibsen, but Nora went out through an open door, but this protagonist locked the door of her torture room from outside and went out into the free wind. There are plenty of films and literary works with woman characters similar to Nora. Still, this woman is different, and she reflects her uniqueness and firmness in the action of hooking the door from the outside. This subtle symbol proved the command of the director over the craft and aesthetic. Director Jio Baby has structured the entire narrative with similes and metaphors.
Those elements artistically express the film’s inner philosophy, and the dominating word in the title ‘kitchen’ finds its importance. The main two female characters remain busy inside the kitchen preparing food for the family most of the time. The most important thing is they had to follow the illogical orders that came from the irrational thinking and demands of the male members of the male family. Both the ladies prepare food inside the suffocated kitchen, and the male members exercise Pranayam or read the newspaper while sitting on a reclining chair. Both the male members are attentive to the food and other necessities but hardly express their concerns about the ladies. The primary duty of the senior woman, the bride’s mother-in-law, is to serve her husband, who does not even put on his shoes by himself. His wife will have to keep that ready. The son, for once, had hugged his wife in the kitchen, and that is all. He wants her only in bed. The father-son duo made the dining table dirty with the leftover food, and the newlywed had to clean those with her hand. She even had to clean all the dirty utensils in the kitchen.
The washbasin pipe gets a crack, and water licks; her husband ignores the problem despite repeated requests. The wife somehow manages the problem, which turns into a meaningful symbolic representation of the core crisis of the film. At the end of the film, this minor incident echoed the sound from the kitchen up as the primary tool of protest raised by the young bride. The kitchen is not only the ladies’ working place; it is their life. They are the owner of a big house, yet the bride had to use her laptop in the kitchen only, on the table she uses to chop vegetables. The bride hears the kitchen noise, and even in the intimate moments with her man, she sees all the dirty scenes from the kitchen. The author based the screenplay on some episodic narratives and led them in a linear pattern of a screenplay’s traditional three-act structure.
All the film’s principal characters are flat; they live their lives only to speak the director’s lines. There is minimum inclusion of crisis and conflict in the narrative. The writer focused on everything to increase the intensity of the torture targeted to the bride. This film contains such limitations, yet it captures the audience with the brilliant performance of the actors and the lively situation created by the director with his skilled utilization of all the audio-visual elements. Within minimum time, he has made the suffocated environment felt to be the bride and compelled the audience to feel the atmosphere. The creation of this suffocating environment with sight, sound, and smell is the major creative success of the director.
The main content of women’s protest against male domination is not a new theme. Still, the theme’s innovative and artistically brilliant part is the amalgamation of the kitchen with the main content and the resonance
created by this combination. The director had presented the dirty kitchen so meticulously that one can easily believe the existence of this kitchen, the kitchen from Kerala, known as India’s most educated and progressive state. But, this kitchen does not represent the kitchens of India. The English title and the word Indian gave a broader perspective to the film, and it helped the film attain a Pan-Indian platform. The content of the film may initiate some socio-anthropological studies on the society of Kerala. This Marxism-dominated state supports male chauvinism, why they treat womenfolk as second-class citizens, despite the high literacy rate of the state, and so on. The initiation of such questions would be a significant success for the film.
In a state with educated rates like Kerala, the story of such repression and oppression of men on women is a necessary and exciting socialist study in contemporary India. But the director explained this idea in his way. At the end of the episode, he tried to colour the story with a religious overtone of repression by portraying the two men of the family as the first devotees of Hinduism. Still, the attempt was not credible, as there was no initial presentation. The story took a journalistic look, referring to the incident of female entry into the Sabarimala temple. But it already presented the spirit of the original statement of the film properly. This additional element could connect nothing to the story. It is so common that it looks like a Facebook post instead of being an in-depth analysis. These two weak parts relaxed the film’s overall structure, as this addition does not prove part of the film’s statement.
The portrayals of India’s misery, superstition, backwardness, and stories of social irregularities, etc., have quickly gained appreciation abroad, and it stood like an easy formula for a few filmmakers. From that formula’s point of view, one can easily guess the presentation of Kerala’s dirty kitchen in this film. This messy kitchen could have been an invention for foreign audiences. But it is not just doing this that the director has stopped – a mindset of spreading the country’s things out of how has been driving the country’s cinema world. He shows his thoughts on Hinduism in the film, even if it is unnecessary in the story. All the country’s people love the country’s pride and want to share this pride, except a few in the film industry.
This expression of inferiority complex in some people may be a subject of the study of art-socio-sociological psychology. In contemporary Indian politics, it is now one technique to draw people’s attention to speaking against Hinduism. Perhaps, the film director tried to enter the ‘good book’ of political power, portraying Hinduism as the root of all social miseries. This film tried to project an element of Kerala’s typified picture as an Indian reality. The movie might receive some sympathy from Kerala’s audience even if the director had shown the life of Kerala with a pathetic vibe. Similarly, the director will get the blessings of Kerala’s influential Marxist practitioners for the negative presentation of Hinduism. Perhaps it was almost impossible for the director to survive in Kerala without this political calculation.