#CreativityExercises: 3 writing prompts from The Great Indian Kitchen
Loved the 2021 Malayalam blockbuster The Great Indian Kitchen? Want to write your own story on the issues it explores? Here are some ideas to get you plotting
Nearly 28 minutes into Jeo Baby’s 2021 Malayalam film The Great Indian Kitchen on Amazon Prime Video, I tweeted this:
(Translation: #NowWatching The Great Indian Kitchen on Amazon Prime Video. Around 28 minutes up, and I have lost all interest in getting married.)
And the next day, hours after I finished watching it, I posted this:
For the uninitiated, The Great Indian Kitchen is about a young woman (played by Nimisha Sajayan) married into a traditionally minded household and expected to honour the patriarchal norms laid down for women—i.e. unpaid housework that involves cooking, cleaning, repairing things, and the like. There’s zero permission for her to get a job or start a business.
Initially, the protagonist sticks to this mould but later begins to grow dissatisfied with the experience. What she does about this situation forms the crux of the plot.
The best thing about TGIK is how it has leveraged the medium of filmmaking—especially cinematography—to depict one simple word, viz. patriarchy, on screen.
Take, for instance, the scenes where the protagonist cooks and cleans endlessly day in and day out. Their well-timed pace makes them brilliantly capture the disturbing nature of the tedium of unpaid routine housework dumped on women. The smart camera angles and neatly composed shots only do more justice to the storytelling.
The brilliant performances by TGIK’s actors are its next big highlight. Nimisha was undoubtedly fabulous as the protagonist. I’m already seeing her sweep all the best-actor trophies at major award events (pun completely unintended).
But if we feel like punching her on-screen husband (Suraj Venjaramoodu) and father-in-law (T Suresh Babu) in their faces, it only means the two actors have done their jobs supremely well.
You can watch the full movie online here.
*SPOILER ALERT BEGINS*
I did have a few issues with the film. For example, I wish the husband was made to have at least regretted his eventual divorce from the protagonist, if not turn over a new leaf. The message would have been more positive and optimistic then. And the title could have been a little less misleading and a bit more specific.
But overall, the movie acts as a great start for creating awareness about patriarchy, as well as the “superhero syndrome” commonly experienced by women.
If you, as a storyteller, wish to keep this chain going, here are 3 writing prompts I have conjured from the film. Get as creative as you want with any or all of them. And remember, no copying or plagiarism. Write a story that’s completely your own.
Making the antagonist regret
Like I said, making the protagonist’s husband rue losing her at the end could have concluded the movie on a more positive, hopeful, and uplifting note.
Currently, his remarriage in the film’s denouement, without any change in him, conveys that humans—especially men—are incapable of change or remorse, which is quite incorrect if you ask me.
So, if you write a story in which you have a character like him and decide to offer them such an opportunity at the end, make them grab it with both hands.
For instance, what if the husband doesn’t remarry in the end but watches a video of the protagonist’s dance performance on his phone? Something like what Karan Wahi’s character does in Daawat-e-Ishq? (Another film with food in its title, I know.)
He could have smiled, as well as felt a twinge of regret. And then he carries on with all the housework at his place and makes his father pitch in.
There’s no need to reunite the protagonist and the husband at all.
Nor is it necessary to redeem his father (whom I call “Toothbrush Uncle”, considering his apathy at fetching his own dental gear and asking the women of the house to get it for him).
At present, the husband’s arc looks flat, one-dimensional, and even caricaturish without the repentance angle, so you could rework this in your exercise.
If you need another character for comparison and critical analysis, use ViRu from my book PiKu & ViRu. He has a similar arc. (Buy/download here.)
Ultimately, I leave it to you to figure out the character arc for this one. If you have an alternative idea for the ending, go for it.
Using Run Lola Run as a reference
What if the patriarchy highlighted in the film is only one of two more scenarios that can be explored?
Try the technique used in Run Lola Run to capture 3 alternative narratives using the same couple.
For those who don’t know, Run Lola Run is a 1988 German film where the same story is told in 3 different ways.
So, if a patriarchal setup is one aspect of TGIK, there could be another in which the protagonist and her husband split their chores equitably. The conflicts could then stem from other sources.
And the third could be the husband taking care of the household while the protagonist is engaged in full-time professional work.
How would the couple’s marriage turn out in each of these cases? What would be the conflicts in each? Would the protagonist still walk away from her marriage? Would she find another man? Play around with these scenarios and see what you can come up with.
If not a film, you can also use this style to create a web series. In case you’re writing a book, try to limit it to one volume, though, as it makes for a more exciting reading experience that way.
Needless to say, find out how you can reinterpret the current story of TGIK in your own style.
Normalising equitable distribution of housework
It’s great to create awareness about patriarchy through a medium as powerful as cinema and try to make a difference.
What can help result in an even bigger impact is by showing every member of a family equally engaged in the housework involved.
This should happen in every film, TV show, and book.
No praising men when they do their share of housework or calling their women relatives “lucky”.
Only then would it be possible to begin seeing lasting change in the societal setup around.
Ensure all your stories have this style of living woven in. See how you can create conflicts in this case. What could possibly go wrong in this ideal setting? Where would the drama and tension arise from? Keep writing, keep exploring.
Here’s a quick screenwriting guide to The Great Indian Kitchen for your reference:
Happiness comes from following your heart and speaking up, not by conforming to societal norms.
Patriarchy, sexism, “superhero syndrome” among women, the importance of assertiveness and of saying “No”, the use of life events as material for art.
As per a finding by the International Labour Organization, women in Indian cities devoted 312 minutes per day in 2018 on unpaid care work while men spent 29 minutes.
“The Wife” (played by Nimisha Sajayan)
“The Husband” (played by Suraj Venjaramoodu)
Point A: Subdued daughter and housewife bending to patriarchal norms
Point B: Strong, independent, assertive career woman
To be in a blissful marriage and keep her husband and in-laws happy
To be assertive and follow her life purpose, even if it costs her her marriage
Ordinary life: The protagonist at her dance class, meeting a prospective match, getting married, visiting relatives, interacting with her husband, helping her mother-in-law with household chores.
Inciting incident: MIL leaves to visit her pregnant daughter.
First act break: The protagonist is left to do all the housework by herself, without any help from the men.
Midpoint: The protagonist’s father-in-law disallows her from working professionally when she seeks her husband’s opinion on the matter in his presence. From this juncture, the protagonist’s need begins to wage a war on her want, though in vain for now. The lack of her FIL’s permission also drives her the farthest from her purpose at this stage.
Second act break: The protagonist is ill-treated by her abstaining family members during her next period, all of whom consider her “impure”. Amid these developments, she refuses to delete a pro-feminism video she shared on Facebook.
Climax: The protagonist serves the men drainage water instead of tea out of frustration. When her husband and FIL confront her about it, she splashes the remaining drainage water on them in response before walking out of the house for good.
Resolution: The protagonist starts a new life as a strong, independent dance teacher and uses her traumatic past as the inspiration for her choreography; her husband marries another woman.
The protagonists of both The Great Indian Kitchen and Tenet are unnamed. Read my blog post on Tenet here.