In a crucial scene from the short film Ghar ki murgi, protagonist Seema (compelling performance by Sakshi Tanwar) counts the money she has saved through her salon business and smiles. The content you see on her face, makes you smile with her! That smile and that scene are so important because you see Seema doing that one thing that she is probably doing out of choice, not because it’s her “duty” or because she is a “homemaker.”
How much is too much?
Directed by Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari, Ghar ki murgi (taken from a famous Hindi phrase ghar ki murgi daal barabar – an easily available thing/person taken for granted) opens with scenes of a pressure cooker whistling, inter-cut with scenes of members of Seema’s family sleeping. This includes her husband, children, mother and father-in-law. Thereafter, Seema is seen running like a machine – collecting milk, preparing breakfast, serving it to everyone, drops her children to their school bus, cooks lunch, takes care of her old father and mother-in-law, washes clothes, manages her salon business, help her children with their homework, prepares dinner, and finally sleeps after eating alone and rubbing balm on her forehead.
“Mujhse achha to yeh pressure cooker hai, gubbar bhar jaata hai to chilla toh leta hai (This pressure cooker is better than me. At least it can take out its frustration by shouting when it can’t take it anymore)” says Seema to her house help which makes us wonder – why is she not saying something? Surely, she realises that she is doing an intensive and thankless job? The most convenient argument that comes to mind: Why is she doing all this despite being educated and financially independent? And as the film progresses, you realise the tough answer – conditioning.
Hero-worshipping the ‘bread winner’ of the family
Centuries of conditioning has made women as well as men believe in the distinction between a man’s and woman’s duties. The idea is that women are supposed to take care of the house irrespective of their professional commitments; an ideal daughter-in-law should take care of her family while there is never a discussion on an ideal son-in-law, or duties of a good mother are well-scripted while financial support is the only ask from a good father.
In a striking scene in Ghar ki murgi Seema’s husband looks down upon her profession saying “Upper lip aur eyebrow banane se ghar chalne laga toh ho gaya kaam hamara” (If houses were to run by threading upper lips and eyebrows, then we are done), reminding us of the heart-breaking scene from Gauri Shinde’s 2012 film English Vinglish where Sashi (played beautifully by late Sridevi) is elated to learn the meaning of entrepreneur, yet her husband kills her excitement by looking down upon her ladoo business and then, in a scene much later in the film, announces that “my wife was born to make ladoos.”
Ghar ki murgi also reminds one of Neeraj Ghaywan’s 2017 short film Juice. The film makes multiple references to how patriarchy and male entitlement runs in our psyche. Be it the scene of all the ladies sweating it out in the kitchen and men having fun in the comfort of their living room, not moving to even take a tissue or a glass of water, or the scene where a mother calls her young daughter “thali lag gayi hai, bhaiyya logon ko khaana khilaao. Bahot khel chuki ho, turant aao” (The food is ready, come and serve the food to your brothers. You’ve played enough, come at once); there are multiple instances that bring us face-to-face with every day, casual sexism that we indulge in because we are wired to do so.
One also gets a vague whiff of domesticity-binding-women-down, as was portrayed in Anubhav Sinha’s Thappad and Ashwiny Iyer’s feature film Panga recently. While, in the former, the stay-at-home wife calls it quits after being disrespected, the latter’s protagonist had to get over her own feeling of guilt for pursuing her ambitions rather than take care of her child and husband. Ghar ki murgi, somehow, finds a middle ground.
Despite a predictable story-line with a happy ending, the message of the film is layered. For instance, five members of the family recognise the worth of one member only when she decides to take a break. In its gentle way, Ghar ki murgi reminds you the contribution of those in your family who has been working relentlessly to ensure your comfort. Next time, do pitch in!
(Directed by Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari, 17-minute short film, Ghar ki Murgi premiered on Sony LIV on Women’s Day and is now available on YouTube. In 2018, it was one of the five short films selected for BRICS Film Festival and represented India.)