People are discovering and re-discovering Malayalam cooking show ‘Annie’s Kitchen’ after a two-year-old clip went viral among Malayalis on social media last week.
The show, which airs on Amrita TV, is hosted by former actor Annie, also known as Chitra Shaji Kailas.
The channel hasn’t aired a new episode of the show since the national lockdown began roughly two months ago. But Annie’s hosting of the show became a topic of discussion as the clip began to recirculate this week.
Viewers were reacting to a conversation between the host and actor Sarayu Mohan in a 2018 episode during which the two discuss feminism and equality.
“I prefer that women stay one step below men,” Sarayu says, to which Annie replies, “That is best.”
“One shouldn’t be feminist, should they?” Annie says, and Sarayu responds “Why have feminism? Let there be equality.” (The two don’t notice the irony in separating feminism from equality.)
The conversation then steers towards how it was better for women to listen to their husbands, who would no doubt be older, and defer to their “experience” to avoid conflicts.
The actors received a backlash as people posted messages calling out the host for promoting and encouraging misogynist views on her shows and shaming guests who didn’t fit into her idea of the “proper Malayali woman”.
The comments section on the YouTube page of the show has been flooded with comments disparaging Annie for blatant sexism.
In January, Neelima Menon had written for The NewsMinute that these conversations were a pattern for the host.
Recounting instances of how Annie interacts with various female guests on her show, Menon pointed that the host often focused on their cooking skills or lack thereof and how well they deferred to the needs of their husband, children or family over their work/career.
“Interestingly, men are spared this editing and judging, nor are they reminded about their duties as a father or husband. If by some luck the man helps in cooking, he is looked on with awe and gratitude by the host.
When a television couple visited the show, the wife, who is also a TV actor, told Annie that she makes all her decisions only after consulting the husband who is a TV serial director. This pleased the host immensely. “That’s how an ideal wife should be,” she said.”
One of the few people to actually counter such comments on the show was actor Navya Nair, who in an episode gently pushed back against Annie’s idea that to be a good housewife was to be a good cook and “that was just part of life”.
In response to the wave of criticism since the recent clip went viral, actor Sarayu Mohan has posted twice on her personal Facebook page, saying her views have since changed.
“I have made a U-turn from the time I repeated words I was taught, that a woman must stay below a man,” she wrote on Monday.
“I have come a little ahead in the last two years. With the lessons experience, travel, friendships and life have taught me. With changes, stumbles and getting back up, I’m shaping my own life now,” she said.
To regular viewers of primetime Malayalam shows, views such as Annie’s will not seem like outliers. But this is also why it’s encouraging to see these ideas challenged on other platforms and for actors to publicly acknowledge that they have revisited toxic ideas they once endorsed.