The Great Indian Kitchen: Fabulous [Movie Review]

A little bit of foreplay will help - a rough translation of a dialogue in a recent Malayalam movie - a movie that seeks to break more than one taboo in the society. It minces no words to talk about periods and sex!

Malayalam cinema has been on the roll for quite some time now. Movies with stories standing out has been the norm in the recent past. Spectacular stories that veer off the commercial track of a savior hero with plenty of sidekicks and mass masala has been making Malayalam Cinema very popular. The most interesting part is the "coming-of-age" of popular stars who were considered comedians in the past. 

Suraj Venjaramood is a phenomenal artist who began his career has a comedian - portrayed plenty of comical characters, including Dasamoolam Damu of Chattambinadu, or Idivettu Sugunan of Pokkiriraja, to name a few. Suraj's transformation from the comical sidekick to a powerful performer shook people - his short role in Action Hero Biju, and his dialogue, "Thamasakku polum ingane onnum parayalle ennu para sare" (Please tell her not to even joke like this, sir) had an ever lasting feel. The full length character performed by him in Vikruthi (Trans: Mischief) was a confirmation of the range this humble man could stretch himself to.

I chanced up on 'The Great Indian Kitchen' while scrolling on Instagram. A teaser to the movie kind of hooked me on - and I awaited the movie's release. The movie was released on a Malayalam over-the-top (OTT) platform yesterday. I made it a point to watch it last night, and the movie left a very strong message - one that I and TW discussed on, later. This 100-minute movie is a little slow - however, the slowness of the movie, perhaps, lets up absorb the content as we move.

The movie begins by showing a jovial, bride-to-be, Nimisha Sajayan practicing dance - the scenes are intertwined with scenes of fresh snacks being made in the kitchen. This is quickly followed by a scene where Suraj Venjaramood, the groom-to-be, comes to her place. Quick fast forward to a scene depicting their marriage - which, again, is a set of scenes intertwined with scenes from the wedding kitchen. As the movie slowly sets rolling, one gets a feeling of the movie being centered on food and its nuances. Remember Ashiq Abu's 2011 movie Salt N' Pepper

In the first few minutes of this quick movie, the scene shifts to the kitchen at a huge patriarchal north Kerala house. The movie shows the 'processes' of the kitchen at a rather relaxed pace - with camera set at corners of the kitchen to show the 'occupant' running helter-skelter in the kitchen. The traditional fire-lit wood-burn stove is shown with prominence as the 'lady in the kitchen' runs there frequently to check-on if the rice has cooked. The traditional house has its share of modernity - a fridge, which is mostly empty; a washing machine - which the family chieftain hates using; and a mixer grinder - the lady of the house makes it a point that the family chieftain (Suraj's father) prefers chutney ground on the traditional ammikkallu (Grindstone). The house has all that you need - but you are forbidden to use them!

Suraj's character of the new groom establishes patriarchy on the very first night of his marriage - where his asks her to turn off the light with sexual innuendos. His expressions when she informs that she is on periods, and asks him to get sanitary napkins reflect his male dominance line of thinking as well. The movie focuses on four main characters - Suraj (playing the husband), Nimisha (playing the wife), the father-in-law (family chieftain), and the mother-in-law. The movie picks pace as the mother-in-law moves out of the house to take care of her pregnant daughter and Nimisha takes over the kitchen. 

Her struggles in the kitchen forms a large part of the movie - she gets at odds with the father-in-law as she uses the mixer grinder to make chammanthi (chutney), cooks rice in a cooker and, later, serves old reheated old food. Her struggles with the kitchen is portrayed really well - especially her nauseating feelings when she has to clear the trash can, or when cleaning the area below the kitchen sink. She struggles with the smell of food leftovers - she feels the smell on her hands all the time - and this is shown hilariously even during a 'bedroom' scene. 

She is shown as an active girl during her periods as she helps the housemaid with cleaning works - while being forbidden from entering the kitchen. Being "out" of regular activities during periods was a tradition in the olden days. The 'reason' given for this (not the religious reason, but a more plausible explanation from my elders) was that the duration of period is taxing on the women, and she better takes rest. Generally, the women move to a separate room during this time - their food is served in the room, and are told to keep away from the kitchen and other household chores. The men in the house take over the kitchen during this time. The movie portrays this entire episode as a punishment - where Nimisha is forced to remain indoors in a tiny room, and not even allowed to touch or interact with others. 

The movie touches another very important concept - of consent during sex. The lady is frowned upon when she talks of pain during the 'act' and asks for 'foreplay'. The husband gets angry when she jokes on him about table manners - giving out a strong message of how it feels to the lady who cleans the table after you are done with eating. A character I loved a lot from the movie is that of the mother-in-law - in the initial half of the movie, she is shown as a traditional, hard-working lady, who completely conforms to the patriarch's decisions and likings; while, in the later half, she is shown as a forward-thinking modern lady who wears salwar instead of saree, who also supports her daughter-in-laws desires to work. 

The movie is a reflection of the typical malayali patriarchy - a movie that all malayalees must watch. The movie has raw depictions of what happens on the bed - probably an opportunity for parents to talk to their kids about sex. India badly needs Sex Education in school. As the movie slowly comes to a close, Nimisha walks out of her prison locking both her husband and his father in the kitchen - her lock walk out of home is portrayed quite in detail - she enjoys her freedom and liberation as she walks past people. As the movie ends, she is shown as an independent women - who takes care of herself!

A must watch movie - a story on mainstream media states that 'mainstream' OTT partners weren't ready to 'buy' this small movie. The movie released on homegrown OTT platform NeeStream (Click here) - the platform has a few older movies available for free, and some original content as well. I believe releasing movies simultaneously on OTT platforms may allow the movie to reach a larger audience - I am sure movies like these without 'bankable' stars may not have a great run at the movie halls, and such beautiful movies with a very important message might just get lost in the ocean of bigger movies. OTTs are here to stay - they are a great option for people who cannot go to movie halls for various reasons. 

The combination of Suraj with Nimisha Sajayan in Thondimuthalum Driksakshiyum (Trans: The mainour and the witness) was teriffic - both of them establishing their calibre as well. This movie is no different, either. Both of them have brought out their best in the movie, which was reportedly shot entirely during the Covid Lockdown (rather, the 'unlock' phase).    

GO for it!