This year, one can sense the jury rooting for films with women protagonists who assert their rights in an emphatic manner
Awards, by their patterns, often send out a message, although the ones giving it out rather dismiss it all as a coincidence. Over the past few years, there has been a conscious shift towards awarding non-superstars while choosing the best actor at the State Film Awards.
This year, one can sense the jury rooting for films with women protagonists who assert their rights in an emphatic manner. That the jury picked The Great Indian Kitchen as the best film is perhaps the biggest pointer towards how it foregrounded gender politics, along with artistic value.
With a narrative centred on a drab, unremarkable kitchen, with the mundane, everyday activities that would happen in any such kitchen getting played out for a considerable part of its run-time, The Great Indian Kitchen did not initially find favour with the big OTT platforms. Yet, when it released in a new, lesser-known platform, the word spread around, setting off the kind of discussions that were not witnessed for any film in recent years.
Speaking to The Hindu after winning the State award, its director Jeo Baby said he had always wished for awards and festival runs, but never expected the kind of reception the film received.
“Not in our wildest of imagination did we expect such a reception. We knew it would evoke some discussion, but not such a wide debate. It is the pathetic condition of women inside houses that led to the making of such a film. I thought of making this movie only after I experienced the drudgery of cooking day in and day out. Many men have a passion for cooking, but they need to cook only when it suits them. But that is not the case with the majority of women who run a house and have to do this round-the-clock,” says Jeo.
In several mainstream movies of the past, this work had been glorified as something that completes the woman. Here, the film places it as something being imposed on her by the men around her. The men, including her husband and the father-in-law, are not portrayed as angry or violent characters, but as soft-spoken ones who calmly impose their will on the woman, like slow, sweet poison.
The script also takes head-on regressive notions of impurity associated with menstruation, and places them firmly in the context of the Supreme Court verdict on women’s entry into Sabarimala.
Incidentally, the verdict and its aftermath come across as a plot point in Senna Hegde’s Thinkalazhcha Nishchayam, which has won the award for the Second Best Film. It also has a woman’s choice at its centre.
This year, the Chalachitra Academy instituted also a special award in any category for transgender persons or women. It went to Nanjiyamma for the ‘Kalakkatha’ song from Ayyappanum Koshiyum.