The buzz in Bollywood circles is that former actor Harman Baweja has bought the remake rights to Jeo Baby’s near-perfect Malayalam masterpiece “The Great Indian Kitchen” about a housewife struggling with the tyranny of the kitchen in her husband’s house.
The film won unanimous acclaim for its scathing critique of the deep-rooted patriarchy that allows men to sit around and denigrate the kitchen while women toil endless hours in the kitchen.
The Hindi remake will apparently feature Sanya Malhotra in a performance played to perfection by Nimisha Sajayan in the original. Arati Kadav, who previously directed “Carbon,” will take over directing Jeo Baby. What baffles me is this rush to redo South Indian films when in fact the original has already been seen by pan-Indian audiences, with subtitles on the OTT platform. No matter how sincere the remake, it will be compared unfavorably to the original.
The original Malayalam film “The Great Indian Kitchen” is that groundbreaking film about the art of cooking that Tarla Dalal and Vikas Khanna could never have imagined. It takes us to the heart of the kitchen so close to the gas cylinder that we can feel the onions sizzle in the pan as Nimisha Sayajan (simply introduced as the unnamed “wife”) works incessantly on the meals. Nerve preparation is almost like an elaborate college exam every day. Her monotony and fatigue mean nothing to the men of the house, her husband (Suraj Vejaramoodu, brilliant) and her father-in-law who have to eat and litter the dining table with morsels, with the occasional burp of approval but mostly frowns. At one point, the father-in-law tells the wife not to cook the rice in the pressure cooker.
“The flavor is leaving,” he mutters and leaves.
Nimisha registers her character’s every flinch with a volume of immersion that’s both unmatched and unleaded. I wonder how much of Nimisha Sanya Malhotra’s anguish and humiliation can project. The tyranny of cooking is mainly a scourge in the traditional pockets of southern India and the cowbelt of northern India.
Like ‘The White Tiger’, the other recent masterpiece on casual social discrimination that has acquired traditional sanctity in our society, ‘The Great Indian Kitchen’ pulls us so close to tormented boredom. of the wife that we feel her inescapable claustrophobia, made doubly unbearable as no one around, men or women, see her predicament as anything but comfortable.
The remarkably scathing commentary on gender discrimination is shocking and repugnant. It’s not an easy movie to watch. In some ways, it’s the ultimate horror tale where only the protagonist feels the walls closing in on her while the men around her are busy enjoying the fruits of her hellish labor.
Then there is the woman’s menstrual break. The four days she is isolated and banned from entering the kitchen. This is where director Jeo Baby, having stripped the culinary arts of all romance and enchantment, politicizes the plot by addressing the issue of the banning of women in the Sabarimala temple. As the Bride grapples with kitchen politics salaries, on the news, the women fight with police and politicians for the right to enter their place of worship.
The pattern of patriarchal persecution emerges in this beautiful, almost brilliant film with an intensity that will hit you hard in your solar plexus. At the center of the culinary chaos, Nimisha does her best to be the docile concubine of the kitchen, working in the kitchen all day, then making herself available to her husband for hasty, unceremonious sex into the night. When the woman suggests foreplay, the man looks at her with naked contempt and responds with shrunken condescension. It was then that I knew. This is not a film that will let the great Indian patriarchy off the hook easily. It will make you squirm and wince. But what he says cannot be ignored.
No matter how diligently the remake is done (Hindi title ‘Bharatiya Rasoi Ki Amar Kahaani’?), it will be very short. We hear Harman Baweja will play the husband. That would be….ummmm….surprising.