Malayalam filmmaker Jeo Baby has been passionate about the medium of cinema since his childhood.
However, entering into the Malayalam film industry was not an easy proposition but Jeo kept pursuing his dreams.
Making his first feature film was nothing less than a herculean task. He approached a lot of actors and production houses but nothing worked out well.
So, along with his friend, Jeo delved into independent filmmaking and made his debut feature film The Great Indian Kitchen (2021), which is currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video.
The hundred-minute-long narrative brings into play the living role of a newly married woman (Nimisha Sajayan), whose selfless service to her in-laws makes her a game for emotional and psychological exploitation by the dogmatic members of the household ruled by patriarchy. It is a drama immaculately constructed featuring the complex and impeccable rendition of a fragmented family extended to a defined space and time.
The father-in-law (T. Suresh Babu) doesn't prefer to have rice cooked in a cooker, clothes should not be wash in a washing machine, a menstruating woman should not go near the basil plant in the courtyard of the house. He smiles sweetly even as he dictates commands to her daughter-in-law. Moreover, there is no physical violence in the movie.
The men of the house raise neither their voice nor their hand on women. The husband (Suraj Venjaramoodu) speaks politely to her and always nods his head gently in affirmation.
As the film reaches to climax, the husband instead of being sorry for losing his wife has married a new woman, who is busy in an identical routine, and in this process, she too enters the same circle of thankless labour.
In conversation with Dipankar Sarkar, Jeo Baby speaks on various aspects of the film.
Dipankar Sarkar: To begin with, the main characters of The Great Indian Kitchen don't have names. What was the reason behind this creative choice?
Jeo Baby: The characters are connected with society that is why they are not given names. They are a part of our society.
Two characters in the film have names. They are Janaki, the milkmaid, and Usha (Kabani), the servant. These two characters are a little more progressive-minded. That is why they were given names.
Dipankar Sarkar: As the newlyweds have sex every night, the wife sniffs her fingers where the smell of the kitchen waste still lingers. Is this a kind of metaphor that indicates the marriage will gradually deteriorate?
Jeo Baby: Sexual relations will happen only when the husband is interested and so he will be the decision-maker. Through this situation, we tried to focus on the male-dominated houses. We all know that marital rapes are happening in many households.
Dipankar Sarkar: Later, when the wife tells her husband that there is a lack of foreplay in their conjugal relationship, he gets angry and retorts that he should feel something towards her for foreplay. What is the reason behind such a disrespectful remark?
Jeo Baby: He overreacts when she is telling him about the foreplay because he thinks that she has insulted his masculinity. But there is no need to think like that.
Actually, there must be a good discussion about foreplay between them, instead of thinking that it is an insult for him. This itself is a problem of the patriarchal society.
Dipankar Sarkar: In one of the scenes, we observe that the walls of the house are filled with photo frames of couples from different generations, and off-screen we hear the sound of different household activities. Was it scripted?
Jeo Baby: Actually, this scene was not there in the screenplay. While the shooting was taking place unexpectedly we noticed some photos in that house. So in the pre-climax, we reached this decision.
I discussed the idea with the sound designer and he had done it in a creative way. As the shooting was in progress, these changes came in a creative way.
Dipankar Sarkar: Why did you end the film with the rehearsal of the dance performance?
Jeo Baby: This was done to express my love for the female character. I wanted the film to end with her smiling face.
Dipankar Sarkar: Do you think that films like The Great Indian Kitchen can bring a change in the outlook of the Indian society towards women because the majority of homemakers in our country have willfully surrendered to such exploiting acts?
Jeo Baby: The climax of the film shows that this system will also continue to exist in society.
Actually, patriarchy in our society is itself creating these kinds of women. Some of them are living as slaves in the male-dominated society. But others want to break these shackles of patriarchal domination and prefer to live their lives in their world according to their wish.
We tried to convey that these are the two types of women who are a part of our society.
Dipankar Sarkar: What according to you is the present scenario of Malayalam cinema?
Jeo Baby: I think the present situation of Malayalam cinema is progressive.
I am telling you this based on films released from January to May 2021, where the content and politics of films are better.
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