In response to Rahul Desai’s Ghar Ki Murgi Short Film Review: A Rooted Riff On The North Indian Housewife Syndrome on Film Companion.
Note: Spoilers ahead
On every International Women’s Day we see a barrage of films, ads, memes, and dedications to women. Corporates and businesses get themselves into a tizzy to make women and girls feel special. Thankfully, the language and tone of many of these offerings have progressed from celebrating women for their role as wives, mothers, and daughters to scratching the surface of what it actually means to be a woman in today’s patriarchal India.
Ashwini Iyer Tiwari’s short film Ghar Ki Murgi falls perfectly into this slot. Written by her husband, Nitesh Tiwari and starring Sakshi Tanwar in the lead role and Anurag Arora as her husband, Ghar Ki Murgi is the story of a housewife who tirelessly manages her house without any help or appreciation from her husband, children, and in laws, until one day she feels like taking a break.
Written by her husband, Nitesh Tiwari and starring Sakshi Tanwar in the lead role and Anurag Arora as her husband, Ghar Ki Murgi is the story of a housewife who tirelessly manages her house without any help or appreciation from her husband, children, and in laws, until one day she feels like taking a break.
Ghar Ki Murgi has all the tropes of a film about a housewife: a restlessly whistling pressure cooker, a multi-tasking demure housewife, a husband who is busy and demanding, whiny children, and a bustling household. Sakshi Tanwar’s character tackles these day-to-day problems with mechanical warmth that has become symbolic of the Indian housewife in mainstream cinema. As we have been seeing for years now, from Sridevi in English Vinglish to Vidya Balan in Tumhari Sulu, and more recently Tapsee Pannu in Thappad, these housewives take their domestic chores seriously and elevate them to a moral responsibility. Until a certain event brings them face-to-face with their value in the household and makes them demand not just love, but also respect.
While each of these films acknowledge the unequal role of women in a marriage and questions what it means to have a “good husband”, none of them, unfortunately, takes the bold step of out-rightly calling out the fundamental flaws of marriage. None of them go as far as to label marriage itself as being the culprit to women’s oppression.
In Ghar Ki Murgi, Sakshi Tanwar’s character decides take a vacation to Goa for a month. This is in response to her husband’s taunt in front of his friends about the measly income she earns from the parlour that she runs from home. Interestingly, the phone call he makes to her that morning informing her of his friends coming over for dinner is reminiscent of an old Hawkin’s pressure cooker ad. In the ad, a peppy wife whips up gajar ka halwa for her husband and his colleagues in no time, with the help of her trusty pressure cooker. In Ghar Ki Murgi, the efficient pressure cooker that is otherwise often shown as a housewife’s best friend is used to depict her mounting unhappiness with her life in that household.
As expected, her family is not only baffled by her decision to take a break but is also caught off guard by who will take care of the domestic chores in her absence. In one scene, as the family sits around and calculates the cost of getting outside help to get these chores done, they realize that the amount adds up almost to the husband’s monthly income. This is a breakthrough moment for the family as they concede to the value of the wife’s unpaid labour and how much that contributes to the well-being of the household.
In 2020, this is an important conversation to have, all the more on International Women’s Day. Among the din of spa discounts, pink greeting cards, roses, and chocolates, it is often forgotten that the day was initially celebrated as International Working Women’s Day to bring attention to the inequalities that women face socially, politically, economically, and culturally the world over. The United Nations started celebrating the International Women’s Day in 1977. Over the years feminist and gender activists have tirelessly called for action to overcome gender discrimination by recognizing, reducing, and redistributing women’s unpaid labour.
Unpaid labour includes all the work that women do in and around the house to keep a household functioning, including cooking, cleaning, childcare, caring for the elderly, tending to farms, fetching water and firewood, buying groceries, and other such chores.
Unpaid labour includes all the work that women do in and around the house to keep a household functioning, including cooking, cleaning, childcare, caring for the elderly, tending to farms, fetching water and firewood, buying groceries, and other such chores. According to IndiaSpend, Indian women do the most amounts of unpaid care and domestic work globally, second only to Kazakhstan. Of course, in light of such data, the conversation has predictably turned towards the contribution that women’s unpaid labour have on the economy. However, the impact of unpaid labour on women’s health, well-being, and happiness is often not the focus.
Unfortunately, as more and more women enter paid jobs, the expectation on them to nevertheless continue taking on the responsibility of domestic chores could be detrimental. According to the National Crime Records Bureau, one of the largest groups of people committing suicide in India are housewives. In fact, some social scientists have found that marriage results in more health, emotional, and social benefits for men, rather than for women.
Also read: Film Review: Thappad Is Not Just About A Slap, But About Its Male Entitlement
Back to the film, Sakshi Tanwar’s character, over the next few days, gets ready to go on her holiday, as her family becomes more aware of the role that they can play in making her life easier. On the day of her departure, after having ensured that all her responsibilities have been neatly handed over her family, she gets into a cab and bids a teary farewell to her family. As gloom settles over the family, there is an xpected knock on the door. She is back! The two minutes away from her family has helped her realize that families should take vacations together and now that her family understands her value, she does not really need the break that she had been adamant about.
Unlike Neeraj Ghaywan’s Juice, which has Shefali Shah as a taken-for-granted housewife staking claim on her space in her own house, Ghar Ki Murgi gives us a housewife who only wants her family to acknowledge her labour, and lend a hand when possible. The woman we see in Ghar Ki Murgi feels the mounting pressure of her dead-end days but does not think it is right or moral for her to take some time off from being a housewife. Her wanting time off away from her family is a selfish demand, one that makes her unfit to be a loving wife and mother.
The film clearly states that women who get basic respect at home should not ask for anything else or anything more, especially not a break away from home for a vacation that you are paying for on your own. The message is clear: now that you have got the respect and help you asked for, do not shake up the system.
The fact that this message is coming from celebrated filmmakers such as Ashwini Iyer Tiwari and Nitest Tiwari is particularly disturbing. Every year on March 8th, women across the world are celebrated while being told what our limits are. Be independent, fierce, and strong, they say, but only within the limits of patriarchy. Women are revered and wanted only as long as we promise to not topple the structures that hold us down.
Also read: Film Review: Guilty Attempts At Providing Nuance For The #MeToo Movement
Isn’t this enough reason for feminists around the world to continue to uphold, celebrate, and turn up the clarion call for International Women’s’ Day each year?
Remya Sasindran is a feminist, a development communications professional, and a movie buff. In that order. You can follow her on Twitter.
Featured Image Source: Women’s Web
I remember being so enraged when I saw the character quit her month-long vacation. She had saved up for it with her own money—didn’t owe anyone anything! Why did she come back? was my frustrated refrain.
You are absolutely right in saying that films like this pacify women from speaking up—they are told to be content in the 2 days of “appreciation” which comes on IWD or Mother’s Day. They are told that they are goddesses. But in reality Indian women are endangered species starting from the womb, to home, to sasural and workplaces. And yes, compulsory marriage and motherhood are the big culprits in entangling women in emotional blackmail of “worthiness” vs. self-worth.
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