The Great Indian Kitchen Movie Review: A well-intended, yet functional remake

The Great Indian Kitchen Movie Review: A well-intended, yet functional remake

Unlike the Malayalam original, the Tamil adaptation relies heavily on background score to enhance laboured performances 
Rating:(3 / 5)

Retelling stories is an art in itself. We see how folklore has a way of being retold multiple times across generations to drive home various pressing themes sugarcoated in a fantastical premise. But then, some concerns need to be told in a rooted premise to usher a change among the discerning audience. Some of these stories need to be told again and again, in as many languages as possible because of the core premise. 

Director: R Kannan
Cast: Aishwarya Rajesh, Rahul Ravindran, Poster Nandakumar, Kalairani and Yogi Babu

Jeo Baby's The Great Indian Kitchen was one such Malayalam film that came right at the time the world was witnessing the 4th wave of feminism, which focuses on the empowerment of women and intersectionality with the use of technology. The film spoke about the sad state of affairs in our homes where we are still fighting patriarchal practices, inequalities, and domestic exploitation of women. Considering the unfortunate universality of the theme, it is heartening that filmmaker Kannan decided to remake this film in Tamil, and cast Aishwarya Rajesh and Rahul Ravindran in the roles played wonderfully in the original by Nimisha Sajayan and Suraj Venjaramoodu, respectively.

For those who missed out on watching the critically acclaimed Malayalam original, the Tamil version will serve the purpose of reiterating and subsequently tearing down the chauvinistic ideology of confining women to the kitchen, the dining table, and the bedroom. Set in a nondescript suburban location, The Great Indian Kitchen revolves around a newly married couple--the wife is a Bharathanatyam danseuse, and the husband is a sociology teacher. The makers choose not to name the characters as they could mirror anyone in the audience.

The story unfolds with the woman going through the grim reality of being a “home administer” and spending most of the time cooking and cleaning the mess on the dining table, floor, and the clogged sink. At a point, her hands start to stink due to repeated cleaning of the clogged sink and its leaking conduit. When it becomes unhygienic and sludgy in the kitchen, she requests her husband to call a plumber to repair it. However, he doesn’t pay heed to her. Although she manages to dispose of the leaking sink water for many days, when several other unfavourable events swarm her up, her temper hits the brim, marking the climactic splash. And instances like these, including the conversation between Aishwarya’s character and her old-school mother or the ones with her empathetic and progressive mother-in-law, and the intimate ones with her husband retain the crux and genuine intentions of the original.

The Tamil version too discusses 'taboo' topics like menstruation, the stigma attached to it, and the historic judgment of allowing women of all ages to enter the Sabarimala Temple in Kerala.

Sincere efforts to produce excellent sound effects has reflected in the output. The sounds of chopping vegetables, cooking, and washing reverberate monotony that eventually suffocates the audience.   The recreation of the symbolism of the original like the kitchen and room grills reflecting prison bars and Aishwarya’s character repeating the same set of clothes reinstates the tedium. Over time, it makes the oppressors, even the sub-conscious ones, uncomfortable and lets the oppressed feel represented. 

However, this Tamil adaptation relies heavily on background score to enhance laboured performances. In this predominantly scene-to-scene adaptation, several crucial instances try to convey the underlying politics of these scenarios. However, the staging of these scenes and performances lacks a sense of organic flow. The central characters try hard to do justice to their roles, but unfortunately, it doesn’t match or come close to the finesse of the original’s cast. The pregnant pauses that made the audiences squirm were a miss in the adaptation. In the end, the layered emotions of pain, angst and rage portrayed by Nimisha were replaced with just anger by Aishwarya in the Tamil version. While a lot of performances didn't always hit the mark, Kalairani stood out with her consistency, albeit in a role with lesser screentime. 

The art of filmmaking offers a platform for creative minds to tell stories that matter of course in their style. Even when it’s a rehash of a done-and-dusted story, there’s always a scope to retell it differently. This novelty can be in the ideological perspectives, its representation, the setting of the film, the aesthetics, and even in the visual language. However, a lack of a bit more nuance pulls down the film by a peg or two. The makers' decision to recreate a kitchen that is almost similar to the one seen in the original didn't really work because it felt like a 'set' in the Tamil version as opposed to the lived-in space of the original. However, such foibles can be overlooked, to an extent, as the film definitely has good intentions. The Great Indian Kitchen might have been too faithful to its core material or the performances might have been too staged or even the perspectives might have been too one-note, but just like how our folklores find different narrations, narratives, and narrators, The Great Indian Kitchen too has found a Tamil voice through Kannan, Aishwarya Rajesh, and Rahul Ravindran. Did it ring loud, and clear? Probably not. But as the credits roll, The Great Indian Kitchen, with all its problems, reiterates that a woman breaking out of the shackles of patriarchy and making the people who thrive in the system get a liberal dose of the daily muck of an oppressive 'natural order' will always be satisfying. 

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