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Female characters in Hindi cinema cook for and feed others but rarely themselves. Sohini Chattopadhyay sifts through a few recent films for the on-screen quirk that fetishises the act of women eating

An early sequence in Judgementall Hai Kya (2019), a film whose box office returns do not match the intelligence of its material, is my favourite bit of Hindi cinema from the last year. Bobby (Kangana Ranaut) is grocery shopping in a supermarket with her so-called boyfriend Varun, played by the writer and actor Hussain Dalal, who is whining about the lack of sex in their coupledom. “This is all we ever do — buy eggs and groceries for you,” he says. “After the excitement of sex dies down, this is what marriage boils down to,” she replies. “Aloo-pyaaz (potatoes and onions) in the supermarket.” It is an unexpectedly funny line, this distillation of what marriage means. But there is another thing — Bobby lives by herself; the potatoes and onions and tomatoes are for her consumption. Earlier on, Varun had complained that she never treats him to anything she cooks.

We are used to seeing female characters who cook for others. In the Indian space project film Mission Mangal (2019), Tara (Vidya Balan) fries puris to feed her family, and she’s such an expert at puri-frying that she makes a scientific breakthrough based on it. She hypothesises that if you can fry puris in hot oil even after turning the gas off, it may be possible to power India’s first satellite into Mars’ orbit with a lighter fuel load. In Manmarziyaan (2018), Rumi’s (Taapsee Pannu) first act of love for her husband after her arranged marriage involves frying a batch of pakoras, dipped in a beautiful Amit Trivedi song. In Andhadhun (2019), Simi (Tabu) makes a show of cooking crab for her husband. In English Vinglish (2012), Shashi (Sridevi) has such a reputation for making laddoos that her husband, played by Adil Hussain, announces that his wife was born to make them. An entire household of women across generations gathers to meal prep on the terrace of an old Delhi house in Delhi-6 (2009). These are all acts of filial love (or duty). But how often have you seen a woman buying or making food for herself?


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February - March 2020