India Features

Soda Bottle Talkies: When Was The Last Time You Saw Women Casually Eat In Movies?

Soda Bottle Talkies, where Apoorva Sripathi chews on that delicious intersection between food and movies.


The new Ocean’s 8 movie has a lot of good things — diverse cast, Cate Blanchett’s outfits (the pale blue suit!), RIHANNA — going for it. But the most promising? Watching Sandra Bullock and team eat constantly and without a care in the world, as if it was the most banal thing ever to exist in movies. Only here, I find it to be radical.

Bullock’s character in particular, sent me into raptures: If Debra Ocean isn’t wolfing down Chinese food, she’s enjoying some celebratory hot dogs at Papaya King or explaining the heist to Lou at Veselka, a beloved Manhattan institution for all things Ukrainian, while piling her fork high with latkes (is there any vegetable more versatile than the spud?). I find all of this radical and wild because the food they eat is as quotidian as heroes beating up bad guys to save the day. Because when was the last time you saw women casually eating in movies?


Unfailingly and unsurprisingly, food-based movies use food to drive the story forward — like The Lunchbox, Julie and Julia or Chef — or establish a character (think The Breakfast Club or another Bullock favourite, Miss Congeniality). They also give us iconic scenes, like when Meg Ryan barely nibbles at her sandwich and gives us an orgasm in When Harry Met Sally or the gathering of elders in Babette’s Feast who go through an entire meal with pleasure or even Ghatotkacha’s amazing ability to polish off laddoos in one go, as seen in Mayabazaar.

But the commonplace eating is always left to the men. Brad Pitt in the Ocean’s series is a prime example of this. His fixation with food doesn’t stop in the Ocean universe though — Pitt eats everything from bagels and cotton candy to corned beef and cheeseburgers in a number of movies. The man just loves eating his way through movies as evidenced by this freeform video. Classic. (Further reading, this.) Women, as some unwritten rule, are never shown to be fully immersed in their food. The food they eat is either tied to their sexuality, their loneliness or as a testament of how much they care about the men in their lives; a case in point is just about every amma in Tamil films who makes sure their hero son doesn’t go to bed on an empty stomach.

Even if women were to eat “normally” what do they eat? Trick question: They almost always never eat normally. It’s here that I’m always reminded of Tamil movies where they eat ice cream and the mood is always messy. The beauty is a beast actually. And what pairs well with messy? Ice cream, but also just about everything. If a Tamil heroine ate ice cream/drank coffee/devoured chocolate without it smearing her entire face, did she eat at all? Or if she does eat, she eats (incredulously at that) from her lover’s plate after he has finished eating (Jeans, I’m looking at you and it’s not at all romantic #sorrynotsorry).


The only time I remember seeing eating normalised on screen by women was in Magalir Mattum (1996), after colleagues Janaki, Pappamma and Sathya successfully celebrate standing up for themselves at work. And perhaps the last time a woman normally ate in Tamil cinema (please tweet @ me if you do remember a more recent scene) was in 7/G Rainbow Colony where Sonia Aggarwal is lovingly served rice and potato fry by Ravi Krishna’s mother, which she proceeds to eat like a bird, unlike the uncouth Krishna (and all of us normal people at home), who deftly wraps a hefty piece of omelette around rice. Also, why is Aggarwal eating plain white rice while others add rasam? Maybe that’s why she takes no less than five small bites in the whole scene.

This bird-and-squirrel-like exercise in dainty eating makes me just slightly furious that women are not even afforded the dignity of comedic eating that’s usually reserved for men. It’s 2018, but women in movies still have to take three critical bites of whatever food is in front of them in a way that doesn’t make them seem even remotely unfeminine. Sorry, but I want out of this monstrosity and in on the actual one. I’m talking about the one where (Paatukku Naan Adimai) Ramarajan polishes off an entire elai saapadu course — rice heaped like a gigantic mountain, appalams strewn across like wild bushes, vegetables piled up high, rasam and sambar that flow like rivulets across a path — with great dedication and an audience of four. The scene is an excellent example of a gore-fest comedy using food. If a woman were to do the same, she’d have to be a) not the heroine b) a fat (there is no other way to put this) comedian/sidekick of the heroine. There is no intermediate; no “normal”.

It’s why movies like Ocean’s 8 or Breakfast at Tiffany’s (the sublime opening scene where Audrey Hepburn’s Holly Golightly eats a Danish and drinks her takeout cup of coffee) feel daring without being too obvious, only because women perform the most commonplace of acts that make them human like men — eating.


Apoorva Sripathi is a Chennai-based writer and amateur artist. She tweets at @Apoorvasripathi.