The Great Indian Kitchen Malayalam Movie Review

Feature Film | Drama, Family
With The Great Indian Kitchen, writer-director Jeo Baby has taken his artistic sensibilities to the next level. His film works as a slap on the face of misogyny and patriarchy in Kerala society. Do find time to see it.
Jan 21, 2021 By Sreejith Mullappilly

After watching Jeo Baby's film entitled 'The Great Indian Kitchen', I failed to recall the names of the characters in it. So, I instantly checked the information on Wikipedia, only to find Nimisha Sajayan's character being described there as 'the wife', and Suraj Venjaramoodu's as 'the husband'. They are newlyweds. For the bulk of the film, the wife describes the husband as 'etta', and the latter calls the former 'edi'.

Most Indian families probably function like the household in Baby's film. A household where the head of the family always looks at the daughter-in-law with a male gaze. The old man cannot even walk a few steps to take his toothbrush, so he tells the daughter-in-law to get it for him. It makes her wonder what am I supposed to do here other than doing the dishes, sweeping the floor, and running the kitchen.

The husband is no less of a chauvinist either. When his wife seeks permission from him and the father to work as a dance teacher, the old man declines her request and the husband tells her to wait a little longer. It is a moment that makes you wonder who the bigger chauvinist out of the two male characters is. Baby's film is riddled with these ingenious moments.

What is more striking about his film is how he tells this story. The first 40-45 minutes of The Great Indian Kitchen revolve around the kitchen itself. All we see until then is the wife doing household chores day in, day out. After all the hard work in a day, she has to worry about a leak in the kitchen plumbing system. While all of the things happen in the kitchen, the male members in the family lead their lives as if none of those matter to them.

The husband only cares about going to work, and coming back home to treat his wife as a sex object. Baby is not saying that these men are bad people. Instead, he is showing us how flawed they are, and how much the society and the growing-up environment are responsible for their attitudes.

Baby is not afraid of making bold statements through the art medium that is cinema. That the woman with periods should be away from the presence of men in the family, is a rule written in stone. That menstruation is a situation that makes a woman impure, is a long-held stigma. I liked how Baby integrated those two notions into the film in a way that relates to the contemporary issue of the Sabarimala Temple in Kerala. The issue may be cooled down now, but if Baby's film came out a few years ago, it would have ruffled a few feathers. It would still hurt the collective consciousness of the patriarchal Kerala public.

The Great Indian Kitchen is a reflection of our society. When seeking marriage alliances, I often come across profiles of Kerala girls with bizarre preferences. In many of those profiles, the preference section is a one-liner: "The boy and his family should allow her to work after marriage". I used to read those preferences with shock, while still wondering who are we to stop them from working then. It is with the same shock that I saw much of Baby's film.

The performances are brilliant in this film released on Neestream, a new streaming app with pay-per-view titles. Suraj Venjaramoodu is building up quite the reputation for roles with suppressed feelings. In character roles, he hardly strikes a false note as a performer. On the other hand, Nimisha Sajayan again shows that chameleon-like ability she has to disappear into her characters. The Great Indian Kitchen is also a showreel for cinematographer, Salu K Thomas, whose camera captures the kitchen portions as how a fly on the wall would.

As a director and writer, Baby announced his arrival with 2017's Kunju Daivam. With The Great Indian Kitchen, he has taken his artistic sensibilities to the next level.

Sreejith Mullappilly