I’m not gonna see The Great Indian Kitchen, even though it looks like exactly the kind of move folks at DCIB would enjoy talking about. It’s on a funky streaming service, it doesn’t have any famous actors we like, it’s Malayalam, I just don’t see it being the sort of thing a lot of you will be able to see. BUT! Shreyans liked it and wants to talk about it, and I like Shreyans, so I found a work around. I think.
The Great Indian Kitchen is about a dancer who gets married and is unhappy and SPOILERS eventually leaves her husband and goes back to being a dance teacher END SPOILERS.
What struck me was the place dance has in this story. It’s the source of strength, of freedom, of female identity, and also the alternative to a life as a married woman. Which made me go “huh” because I could immediately think of two other movies that used it the same way.
In Guide, both the book and the movie, our heroine is trapped in a cold abusive marriage where she is forbidden to dance. She finally leaves her husband and finds her freedom by pursuing her dancing dreams. In the end, she needs no man, she is content with her Art alone.
In Ramante Edenthottan, our heroine has almost forgotten her dancing after years of married life. Her marriage is not abusive but it is unfulfilling. In the end, like in Guide, she leaves her husband and finds happiness and freedom by returning to dance. No man required.
I wonder why this is? Is it just that dance is a handy thing for a woman to know, more cinematic and easy than having her be a former French translator or something? Or is it something more specific to the place dance holds in Indian culture?
There is the tradition of the temple dancers, the honored women who spent their lives dancing for God and never married. There’s also the tradition of the Dancing Girls, the ones scorned by society but free and in control of their own lives. Guide kind of brilliantly combines the two, our heroine was raised in a Dancing Girl family but, as an adult, manages to transition to more of a Temple Dancer place in the world, respected and dedicated to dance.
And there’s classical dance as a discipline. It is something you can get a degree in, something that indicates a level of education, class, caste, etc. This is a fairly recent development, since the early 1900s when traditional dance was rescued from the “it’s all prostitutes” degradation put onto it by the British and moved into a place of schools and degrees. A heroine with dance training means she was ambitious and accomplished and dedicated, and has something of real value in the world to sell and offer around.
Okay, that’s all I’ve got. What do you think about women who leave marriages and return to dance? Why is there this pattern?