Starring: Shefali Shah, Manish Choudhary
Directed by: Neeraj Ghaywan
Rating: ***(3 stars)
It is easy to rave about a film that champions the middleclass housewife’s cause with such intense enthusiasm. Juice, is the new film—or shortfilm, if you must insist—by NeerajGhaywan who made the wonderful Masaan and also a heartwarming ad on the life of transgender-mother.
This time Neeraj’s vision is on the war-path. His camera prowls confidently into a dinner-party scenario in a middle-income home where the man of the house, played with vehement integrity by the wonderful Manish Choudhary, sits with his office colleagues in the tinylivingroom while the wives busy themselves in the kitchen with the endless supply of food that the men require to replenish their appetite for small-talk.
I have to admit that this livingroom-versus-kitchen politics is not unfamiliar to me. However its existence is on the wane now. Wives do not run into the kitchen at such get-togethers. Cooking and kitchen work is no more the incriminating legacies of patriarchal tyranny that they used to be 20 or even 10 years ago. Ghaywan’s film, though brilliant with its eye for topographical and emotional detail, must be seen in the context of the nostalgic rather than the contemporary.
This is a claustrophobic view of a domestic despotism that grabs the cult of misogyny by its arms and tugs hard . The men in the livingroom(all played by accomplished actors) babble hard and loud about Hillary, Obama,Emails and females while the wonderful Shefali Shah playing the hostess of this noisy evening,shuffles in and out with plates of fried chicken and other snacks.
Shefali, God bless her sang-froid, makes her presence felt eventhough she plays that near-invisible entity that housewives in middle-income homes used to be in the last millennium.
Watching Juice I was reminded of what Satyajit Ray had said about making the youngSoumitra Chatterjee’s character in Charulata a progressive feminist as a way of making himself feel like a progressive feminist.
In Juice(why juice???) one late guest walks in with his pregnant wife and tells his hostess, “Bhabhiji ,take her inside.She has learnt some new recipes.”
To these men their wives acquire a definition only through their culinary skills. That seems terribly unfair to the workingclass Indian male, specially at a time when in the recently released Tumhari Sulu Vidya Balan’s husband , right out of the milieu that Juice recreates, was shown to be so encouraging and supportive .
The men in Juice are uniformly apathetic. But you feel the strong presence of the invisible Liberal Male in the director’s perception of domestic tyranny. Ghaywan fills up the tiny apartment home with more people eating(in the livingroom) and being fed(from the kitchen) than Jennifer Lawrence was shown coping with in the recent horror extravaganza Mother!
Tyranny, specially patriarchal tyranny, makes for compelling cinema. Neeraj Ghaywan’s Juice, though engaging in its detailing and its rigorous quest of misogyny, ends up seemingmisandrist.
Why Juice, you may well ask. See that glass of beverage in the housewife-protagonist’s hand at the end when she decides to join her husband and his friends in the living room? That’s orange juice.