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Juice – On Indian Dinners Where Families (Mistr)Eat Together

Eating together, in Indian culture, is believed to have a way of bringing families together. Once at a reasonably large families-gathering, I saw one of the men feeding a little girl – apparently serving chapatis – with a bite of Jalebi, jokingly say, “Seva karoge toh meva milega” (If you serve, you’ll be awarded). The other men at the dining table broke out in fleeting laughter. Let me paint you a picture of a soirée at a typical Indian household: the women serve the men with water and food, lay plates for them, and even put their husbands’ dishes in the sink. After this, the women serve themselves dinner while the men march off to the living room. Now if you’re one with the cultural blindfold, you could think of this as an endearing tradition of looking after ‘each other’ even as the culture’s deeply-rooted patriarchy glares at you with exasperation. 

Neeraj Ghaywan’s slapping short film Juice is an unfeigned rendering of this everyday affliction. The film is more than just a simplistic portrayal of patriarchal ignorance; it leaves you with a powerful feeling of disentanglement – via a cathartic rejoinder.

One of the film’s first scenes shows many comfortably perched, married, adult men at a family get-together. They engage in a spiteful talk about their recently appointed female colleague: “Science ke mutaabik, aadmi aur aurat ki sharirik sanrachna mein farak hai” (According to science, men and women have different anatomies). The men have no qualms about comfortably occupying the sofas in the living room while the children are mewed up in a stuffy room, and the women cede their leisure to rot in the kitchen.

Mrs Singh or Manju (Shefali Shah), the host, or more appropriately, the “leading lady in service,” sets out to make the women’s make-believe get-together more endurable and less humiliating by offering tea and fixing a table fan in the kitchen which not long after stops to work. Sadly, the women’s conceit ironically reveals itself in the following scene where the maidservant is offered tea in a separate, unalike glass of steel.

The kitchen is the women’s abode and the countertop their seat; they discuss subjects close to life – marriage, children, and career. The following scene is stunning in that it lays bare Manju’s resenting soul. She almost aggressively questions why raising children must require a woman to abandon her career. “Diaper toh hum hi ko badalna karna padega na, logon ke haathon se toh remote chhoot jaayenge” (Changing diapers has to be only our duty, because our husbands have their hands tied to the remote). However, this is only one small strand that constitutes the build-up, a catalyst for the long-overdue reckoning.

Outside, the men engage in lowbrow banter about Akbar dying of ‘pechis’ (dysentery), and the US presidential election. “Obama ne kya ukhaad liya . . . Trumpva hi America mein jaan laayega” (What good did Obama ever do . . . Only Trump can make America great again). One of the ladies, Mrs Sarla, calls on her little daughter to serve the boys their dinner, “Bhaiya logon ko khaana khilao!” The remark discernibly provokes Manju as she witnesses a mother pass this ignorance on to a daughter. Regardless, she decides to keep quiet.

Perhaps the most crucial instance in the film comes from a short, easy-to-ignore dialogue between Sarla and her daughter Dolly that may feel a little too close to home. Sarla instructs her daughter to not go into the living room where the “uncle log” rejoice in whiskey and cigarettes. Sarla says, “Kabhi humein dekha hai wahan jaate hue?” (Ever seen me going in like that?) and suppresses Dolly’s protest, it is bare for the audience to see that a mother’s shoes are not always the right pair for her daughter to step into.

Juice is terrific and terrifying at the same time. The film’s nuanced storytelling does not explicitly spell out everything for its audience, but puts faith in their intelligence. The whistle of the pressure cooker, the recurrent sizzling, the sweltering kitchen, the non-functional fan, the accidental burning of a hand, the self-deceiving giggling of the wives, the ceaseless summon by Manju’s husband – it all builds up. Manju takes a deep breath as she stands at the door of the living room with a glass of juice in one hand and a chair in the other. It is here that the film does its work. Until this point, the film acted as a mirror reflecting life as it is, but now it takes a different course ­– it shakes up the audience with the taste of rebellion and possibly a little discomfort. Manju drags the chair in the room full of chortling men and sits before the water cooler. It is a palliative sight to see the men unsettle, awkwardly straighten up, and turn silent.

The gift of this film, most definitely, is Manju ­­­– a woman who puts herself on view in a room populated by men. She lifts her eyes, pans across the bunch of men, and finally meets eye to eye with her husband. It is daunting to witness a husband and wife so tragically pitted against each other that one has to put up a fight to reclaim their dignity from the other. Mr Singh seems infuriated at his wife’s “impolite” march into the room but finds himself at a loss for words. The insensitivity in his eyes is frightening. Ghaywan would only hope that the spin-off doesn’t pass us by: it is easier said than done but rebelling has us far better-off than being obedient and easy-to-exploit. Shefali Shah’s powerful eyes speak of betrayal, exasperation, abandonment and disappointment; the stare is a desperate question to her husband, “How is masculinity so blown out of proportion that you nourish your self-conceit at the expense of your wife’s happiness?”

If Juice feels too close to home, it is a reminder that you could be incessantly exploited at the very hands of your loved ones. If Juice feels too close to home, it is a reminder that the spirit to defy rests with you. 

Experience Further: Released in 2018, Bea Miller’s ‘Like That’ is a song that exuberates a sense of ‘uprising.’ She once said in an interview, “Sometimes I fantasise about what it would be like to make music in a time where music spoke for itself.” Yielding to her wish, I will let Miller’s beautiful song do the talking!

  1. So incredibly phrased and though I haven’t actually watched Juice yet, I feel like I have after reading this!

  2. How amazingly has this article put things into perspective! One that the bare eyes fail witnesses evryday yet remain unspoken!! I’m really curious to watch the short film now!

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Anant Shah

Anant Shah- Founder

Anant Shah (just as his Instagram bio says) has always been interested in connecting people though their different cultures. He is drawn to this goal, given his background of a family of artists, as well as his work at several different organisations such as the People Tree with Orijit Sen, The Conflictorium in Ahmedabad and The UN (AIDS) Communications and Global Advocacy Team in Geneva. As a graduate of History and International relations at Ashoka University, he co-founded and set up the Ashoka Literature festival in 2019. Longing to increase this critical discourse on contemporary and traditional Indian Cultures he finally decided to start InCulture.

Kartik Sundar- Founder

Kartik Sundar loves nothing more than opining on cultural content. An avid writer for many publications, the decision to start one of his own came from recognizing a substantive lack of critical discourse around Indian culture today. He graduated Ashoka University with a degree in History & International Relations and wishes to complete further education with a focus on media and cultural studies.

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We at inCulture are looking to shed light on what we see as an emerging new Indian culture as well as paying dues to the traditions that have been integral in shaping the current space. We want to try and create a space where critical reflection on cultural events, individuals, works of art, or practices can be fostered. Rather than exist as a cultural news outlet that merely serves as a bulletin board for the latest releases, inCulture will look to curate multi-medium pieces that seek to inform readers about aspects of our culture that make you think beyond an immediate reaction. In particular, we strive to look critically at Indian culture by investigating it under four distinct categories – film & theatre, music, spaces, and society.

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