The Great Indian Kitchen, Ramante Edenthottan, and Guide Discussion Space: Why Does Dance Always Play a Part?

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.

The Great Indian Kitchen (2021) - IMDb

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.

Ramante Edanthottam Stills Pictures | nowrunning

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?

19 thoughts on “The Great Indian Kitchen, Ramante Edenthottan, and Guide Discussion Space: Why Does Dance Always Play a Part?

  1. I just bought an academic book about dance and women in Hindi cinema, so I am excited to learn about this topic.

    It fulfills that function for men too sometimes, in Disco Dancer Jimmy uses it to escape from his poverty, in Ekka Raja Rani it is the means for Govinda to be able to marry who he wants because they can set up a dance group together. There are probably more Govinda plots like that that I can’t remember because it seems like the kind of thing that happened 100 times.

    Interestingly, in Ilzaam he is basically a dance crime slave, which is the only time I’ve seen that happen to a man, when it happens to women a lot.

    Like you said, it’s so hard for me to place dance in Indian society, because sometimes it’s equared to prostition and crime and is not respectable, and then sometimes it’s really noble and something respectable people do. You’d think dancing would only be not respectable for women, but in Kaun Kare Kurbani Dharmendra mocks and scolds Govinda for doing a public dance at his university.

    I think it has a transformative meaning I do not understand but probably will once I’ve read this book and that is where both these things come from.

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    • Yes! Read this book, and then explain the whole thing to me!

      I know dance can be a form of worship, which it isn’t in western culture. Which is kind of weird now that I think about it. We have loads of religious musical traditions, singing and instrumental, and some religious literature, and even religious painting. But not dance. Huh. If I think of it like singing, maybe that makes more sense to me. Gospel singers can be very strict about only singing for God and kind of looking down on worldly singers who sing in night clubs.

      On Mon, Feb 1, 2021 at 3:20 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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      • Well, besides native dancing, you do, but in traditions like carnaval. Seen like that I get it more, like in Europe you had high ritualised dance at court, less high at balls and public dances, low dances at fairs and stuff like carnaval.

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      • Huh. I guess it is frivolous, in that it is something which won’t necessarily improve your economic standing in any way.

        On Mon, Feb 1, 2021 at 11:00 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

        >

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  2. Yay! Thanks for the discussion post! Maybe others have seen it and want to talk about the other themes and screenplay….but I’ll take this!

    I think dance is the alternative for two reasons:
    – Most Indian girls learn some form of dance as kids. Schools have dance class for the girls, and there are numerous after-school dance programs/teachers….of course, most just give up after a few years but all girls are introduced to it in some form…so it makes sense that these women would want to dance…its one of the very few things they were allowed to do…
    – Second, I think dance is also easy to digest for the audience…in the sense that she is leaving her husband but is still going to stick to a mostly female hobby/occupation…so she is only slightly breaking the mold…like if she left her husband to become an accountant that would just be weird and hard to understand…how did she develop a liking for accounting? When did she even learn the basics? Who is going to give her a job? How is she going to pay for the degree? With dance (or even singing/painting) these things are already sorted…

    Also, other movies that use dance as “freedom” are Rab Ne Banadi Jodi, Dil to Pagal hai, Taal, Aaja Nachle…maybe it also gives the directors excuses for elaborate dance sequences…

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  3. What struck ME isn’t the place dance has. It’s the place the bad smelling kitchen sink has. The film’s title has an open sarcastic undertone.

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  4. My POV on this- Classical Dance is something that is encouraged for young girls to learn in India but only till their childhood,but continuing that as a career option is considered a taboo here… parents in India dont mind if its taken as a hobby but having it as a permanent career or job drives them crazy…i think its sumthing embedded deep inside them. There are very few families that have encouraged women to pursue dance and those women have gone to be notable dancers and ultimately great dance teachers as well. What families or parents don’t understand is that -for any kid who learns classical dance- be it girl or boy- it sort of becomes one’s personality and an irreplaceable part of that person…creative expression is a means of communication and freedom for all dancers…hence being told to discontinue once u r older is deeply painful and unreasonable! This is from my personal experience 😊

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  5. Pls see great indian kitchen. All the reasons you said are true. But it is also a film that got rejected by both prime and Netflix and then became a runaway hot despite being on an obscure streaming service. The streaming service sucked. Lots of people watched it illegally . Then downloaded the streaming site and paid to support the film and it’s makers. It had such a huge impact in kerala.

    It’s stars had such unique journeys to reach this point in their careers. Suraj started as a mimicry artist who went on to do television and movie roles full of cheap disgusting comedy. From there he worked hard to be a bonafide hero who can stand up against likes of fahad faasil and prithviraj. Nimisha, despite having a metropolitan upbringing chose to be the representative of the actual girl next door on screen. Her script selection to date is on dot. And here they are portraying a nameless couple, standing in for every man and his wife. The directors last movie with Tovino was a saga of missed chances and sucked big time.

    But the biggest reason I am nagginh everyone I know to watch it is because of the way it has portrayed the patriarchy of Kerala society. The kitchen shots are exquisite. This may be the biggest feminist movie to come out of Malayalam industry.

    But beyond all that, this brave small movie deserves to win. And I would love to hear your outsider take on it.

    P.S. dance is such a minor element in it. If you want to compare it with some other film, it would be English Vinglish and how Sridevi was constantly getting undervalued by her family. Ita the same vibe Jeo Baby has explored.

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    • Thanks! So much interesting information!

      I already know and love Suraj, I recognized him from the poster, glad to know he is getting recognition. And I am glad that a small odd film like this is getting attention, that’s always good and healthy, for small films to have a place to become runaway hits.

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  6. Neestreams is not a funky platform but a new streaming platform that needs a 2$ payment to see the movie on any of the devices usually used to watch any other OTT content. Being Malayalam/Hindi should be the same for non-natives of bothe languages. Suraaj Venjaramoodu is a national/state award winning actor and so is Nimisha Sajayan. They are not Bollywood stars but certainly well accomplished Indian actors. Above all,the movie is definitely different from the two movies mentioned in the post. So the readers of this blog may actually learn something about the Indian culture if they choose to watch this movie.

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  7. Dance has always held an important place in Indian culture-as a medium of expression and also as a medium of storytelling of ancient myths.Indians had been rather frank about sexuality hence dance often overlapped with sex work.However a boundary was maintained for those uncomfortable with the idea.
    Ancient India(200 BC-600AD)had a culture of nagarvadhu who were basically city dancers and may have maintained amorous relationships with the king.They had their own troupes of dancers.In South India(after 1000AD)the rise of gigantic temples led to the rise of devdasis.There was Andal,a woman who literally garlanded the idol of the deity as she didn’t want to marry any man.Finally the Mughals patronised dancers in the North.North Indian dancers tended to move around rather than being located in a particular place.While devdasis were involved dancers with a strongly religious background,non religious dancers too contributed to religion.Kathakali troupes narrated stories from the Mahabharata.Theyyam dances are a tribute to the deceased tribal heroes who lost their lives for the rights of their people.During the Durga Puja women from the entire neighbourhood would gather and dance putting colours on each other.The transformation of conch blowing shrewd kingmaker Krishna of Kurukshetra into the flute playing affable cowherd Shyam of Vrindavan didn’t happen overnight;it was the tawaifs who visualized him as a romantic figure and themselves as Radha,which then became a part of His public image.Every God has some sort of dance linked to them,even sufis have their qawwalis and whirling.Thus dance became a part of Indian culture which everyone is expected to be proficient in,if not pursue in their adulthood.There is a lot of focus on both ‘classical’ and ‘western’ forms of dance in school itself.This does not mean that all Indians are good at dance.
    The question of devdasis being prostitutes is an interesting one,as there is no definitive answer.Yes,many of them faced sexual exploitation which pushed towards criminalization of the system.But I was shocked to learn that hardly any priests were arrested.Most of them carried on with their lives while devdasis lost their livelihood.Moreover the authorities didn’t know how to rehabilitate them.They lacked skills to support themselves financially and marriage wasn’t an option.Many devdasis ended up taking sex work for their livelihood.Interestingly some famous devdasis who took up non-religious jobs such as dancing at public ceremonies insisted that they be recognized as devdasis.Some of them had pushed for giving them autonomy over temple finds so that they did not have to rely upon priests.That did not happen unfortunately.It is rather upsetting that many devdasis from lower sections of the society contributed to the dance form of Sadir,which was reframed as Bharatnatyam but is now a monopoly of elites.

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  8. And yes-parents are very much “oh dear,you HAVE to be good at classical dance,what will people say if you don’t dance well at the family function” but the moment we think about pursuing it as a career they lose their sh*t over it.
    Dance in most families remains restricted to family functions among women.And in the grand scheme of capitalism Indians have come up with an effective way to increase the expenditure on music systems during weddings-the Sangeet functions,where everybody just dances.As if they don’t dance in weddings,as if they don’t get to show of with an orchestra at receptions.

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  9. You can watch this short movie by Jeo Baby instead of his Great Indian Kitchen – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tA9gbIDwJwI. No subtitles but the gist is kind of similar to the Great Indian Kitchen. Also, his Kilometers and Kilometers is available on Netflix. Stars Tovino Thomas and India Jarvis (American actor) and is a good movie. Nothing serious but mostly engaging.

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