Disciplining the Madhouse: A Study on The Kitchen and Joker
Dr Sajitha M.A
Man’s frustrations and sufferings are chiefly attributed to the society in which he lives. The paper unveils the socio-cultural-psychological conflicts reflected in the kitchen sink drama, The Kitchen, and in the Malayalam movie, Joker. The play, The Kitchen, by Arnold Wesker portrays the traumatic situations occurring on a single day in the busy restaurant named Tivoli. If the world is a stage for Shakespeare, it is a kitchen for Wesker. It is life in miniature form as it deals with a variety of themes like romance, pregnancy, theft, betrayal, conflicts, brutal enmity, follies of class structure and so on. The hero of the play Peter bursts out in the last part of the play as he realises that he does not fit into the madhouse. The main objective of the paper is to investigate the victimization of class structure which adversely affects the people who belong to the lower strata of society. Directed by Lohitdas, the film, Joker, unveils the happenings in a circus company. In the first part of the film, the characters live happily as one family in spite of the financial constraints, forgetting individual differences of class, caste and gender. But with the entry of Sudheer, the whole harmony is lost. The movie and the play focus on the triangular love story, but the paper highlights the problems of the marginalised category in a disciplined workspace. The paper also analyses the works with the Foucauldian concept of discipline.
Keywords: Discipline, power, insanity, surveillance
The Kitchen depicts the life of workers in a busy restaurant in London, Tivoli, which serves more than 2000 customers a day. It is an insane place full of smoke, grease and noise. It has two acts with an interlude in between the acts. While the two acts portray the busy service hours, the interlude depicts the free time of the workers in between the forenoon and evening service sessions. The interlude is the only quality time they get for proper rest, leisure and interaction with each other. They share their past experiences, dreams and hopes with each other. All other dialogues are interrupted by the noise of the kitchen and the meal-orders.
The workplace is important in both The Kitchen and Joker. “Disciplines sometimes require enclosure the specification of a place heterogeneous to all others and closed in upon itself. It is the protected place of disciplinary monotony” (Foucault 141). Power can be executed upon the team in a closed territory where there is no intrusion of outsiders. The home of not a single character is portrayed in the play and the movie. Hence the workplace is their first home irrespective of their lack of affection or attachment to the place. The eligibility to fit into the workspace is determined by the pace with which the characters move in Tivoli restaurant and the circus camp. The attitude of the workers to the customers is different in both the works chosen for the study. “All kitchens, especially during service, go insane. There is a rush, there are the petty quarrels, grumbles, false prides, and snobbery. Kitchen staff instinctively hate dining-room staff and all of them hate the customer. He is the personal enemy”(Wesker). But in Joker, the proprietor, manager and all the workers are thrilled when more number of customers or audience watch their show. They are not overburdened with the increase in the number, whereas in the restaurant, the dining staff and kitchen staff hate the customers as they have to prepare their special items and attend to their needs individually.
The distribution according to ranks or grade has a double role: it marks the gaps, hierarchizes qualities, skills and aptitudes; but it also punishes and rewards. It is the penal functioning of setting in order and the ordinal character of judging. Discipline rewards simply by the play of awards, thus making it possible to attain higher ranks and places; it punishes by reversing this process. Rank in itself serves as a reward or punishment. (Foucault 181)
The new employee in Tivoli, Kevin from Ireland, learns from his fellow workers, the attitude of the people in power, the structure of the kitchen and the working atmosphere. Nicholas gives a detailed introduction to Kevin when he reports for duty on the first day:
Here I’ll show you. Right, for a start there’s the menu for the day, chef writes it out each night. Over here, this is where I work on the cold buffet. This is Max the butcher. And there, you see that fat bitch down there? Well she works, or says she works, as the veg cook. And here is my Aunty Anne who’s on teas and coffee. Next, Paul and Raymond are the pastry cooks – they have an easy life, make pastries in their own time which they give sweet Annie here to serve. And here – here is the front line. A lot of blood gets lost here. Alfredo on the roast, very efficient. Michael on soups and omelettes, very cheeky. Coco works here on fried fish but he’s very absent so perhaps you take his place. Hans here on deep fry. And over there is second chef, Frank, on poultry. And here, here is the best chef in the house and my best friend, Monsignor Gaston, who will grill steaks and chops, which puts him next to Peter on boiled fish. Peter very mad very bad. Gaston hates Peter…(Wesker p.35 )
Kevin was in Parisito, Shaftesbury Avenue before joining Tivoli for better payment. After the hectic forenoon session on the first day he says, “I don’t think I’ll last the day”. He says “I’m soaking. This jacket, I can wring it out. That’s not sweat, no man carries that much water. Kevin, you’ll drop dead if you stay. Get out! This is no place for a human being. You’ve got your youth, Kevin, keep it!”(81). He joined the company expecting good pay but never imagined the first day would be so hectic. He opens his heart during the interval:
PAUL: (Ordering.) One boiled Irishman, please!
RAYMOND: (Continuing.) Fried tomatoes on his ears, potatoes round his head, and stuff his mouth with parsley and peas.
KEVIN: I’ll produce me own gravy! Did you see it? Did-you-see-that? Fifteen hundred customers, an’ half of them eating fish. (Beat.) I had to start work on a Friday! (Wesker p.81)
The human body becomes just a robot or machine fulfilling the orders of the employer from whose surveillance there is no escape. The impertinence of the employees is intolerable to proprietors Marango and Govindan. There is a power structure evident in these works. Wesker states in the introduction to the play The Kitchen, “The world might have been a stage for Shakespeare but to me it as a kitchen, where people come and go and cannot stay long enough to understand each other, and friendships, loves and enmities are forgotten as quickly as they are made”.
The quality of the food in the restaurant is not so important as the speed with which it is served. It becomes a madhouse with incredible speed. The characters play different roles of waitresses, kitchen porters, and cooks.
All kitchens, especially during service, go insane. There is the rush, there are the petty quarrels, grumbles, false prides and snobbery. Kitchen staff instinctively hate dining-room staff and all of them hate the customer. He is the personal enemy. The world might have been a stage for Shakespeare but to me it is a kitchen; where people come and go and cannot stay long enough to understand each other, and friendships, loves and enmities are forgotten as quickly as they are made. (Wesker)
By kitchen, Wesker does not merely mean the London kitchen Tivoli. The kitchen is the metaphor for any workplace where people come and go. During the short stay, they make relationships. It is their world where they love each other, quarrel for petty reasons, and share their thoughts, dreams and hopes. Some relationships last forever, while others turn to oblivion. Even the Royal Circus is a kitchen, a madhouse. There is a kind of discipline registered in the minds of the workers, which they follow. It is not required for the proprietor, manager or chef to instruct them on their duties. But they follow the timetable systematically to avoid disturbance and punishment.
The time-table is an old inheritance. The strict model was no doubt suggested by the monastic communities”. It soon spread. Its three great methods - establish rhythms, impose particular occupations, regulate the cycles of repetition - were soon to be found in schools, workshops and hospitals. (Foucault 149) .
The employees in all workplaces including schools, hospitals, and factories follow a specific timetable to avoid mayhem. The close analysis of The Kitchen and Joker reveals the miserable and hideous life people live behind the screen. The workers are seen on the stage and dining area as smart and ebullient people. But in reality, they suppress their sorrows, wipe their tears and welcome the customers with a broad smile. There is no room for their personal problems as the proprietor, Govindan says, “The show should go on”. He says these words when Abukka and Sudheer are on their deathbeds. The fellow workers are not able to show their emotions, they wipe their tears and rush to the stage to perform. The circus show is never interrupted even though there are many accidents and deaths in between the show.
The performance in the circus ought to be successful, so the controlling power establishes rhythms, impose particular occupations and regulate the cycles of repetition. The constant training given by Sudheer is an example. Kamala does not even realise that her affinity with Babu is disturbed due to her rigorous training.
Many disciplinary methods had long been in existence - in monasteries, armies, workshops. But in the course of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries the disciplines became general formulas of domination. They were different from slavery because they were not based on a relation of appropriation of bodies; indeed, the elegance of the discipline lay in the fact that it could dispense with this costly and violent relation by obtaining effects of utility at least as great. (Foucault 137)
The Kitchen Sink drama resulted in the emergence of a new style of drama which gave importance to the representation of country houses of working class people in the working class setting. It has its origin in the expressionist painting of John Bratby. The images of the kitchen sink, sieves, spoons, bathrooms and toilets which were not the subject of painting till that time invited academic discussions, the most prominent one being the article by David Sylvester. Kitchen Sink Realism also witnessed the rise of the Angry Young Man. A number of playwrights with radical views were members of it. They are John Osborne, Harold Pýnter, and Alan Silitoe. The Kitchen gives importance to the hardships and sufferings of the common man which was not of any importance in the earlier plays. As Ribalow states, “What makes the kitchen at all memorable is that Wesker sees in his men and women the people of the world, with their dreams, conflicts, their loves, their hates, their inability to get along together. Behind the daily grubby work, there is a message. Men struggle without knowing why. They grope for love, which, more often than not, passes them by. (28) The play begins at seven in the morning. Wesker portrays the busy schedule by including the endless number of orders.
ANNE: One fruit flan, two coffees.
DAPHNE: (To FRANK.) Two roast chicken.
FRANK: Two roast chicken.
WINNIE: (To ALFREDO.) Two roast veal and spaghetti.
ALFREDO: Two roast veal and spaghetti.
JACKIE: (To MICHAEL.) One prawn omelette.
MICHAEL: One prawn.
GWEN: (To ALFREDO.) Two roast beef.
ALFREDO: Two roast beef.
MOLLY: (At KEVIN’s station.) Two sole.
CYNTHIA: (At KEVIN’s station.) Three plaice.
DAPHNE: (To GASTON.) Two lamb chops.
GASTON: Two lamb chops.
HETTIE: (To MICHAEL.) Two minestrones.
MICHAEL: Two minestrones. MONIQUE: (To PETER.) Four cod. (Wesker p.66)
The workers come from different socio-cultural backgrounds. The kitchen becomes a melting ground for these people who come from different countries: Germany, Italy, Ireland, and Cyprus. Max bursts out when Hans and Raymond speak German, “You’re in England now. Speak bloody English. Everybody speaking in a different language – French, Italian, German. You come here to learn English didn’t you? Well bloody well speak it then”(Wesker p.36 )
Peter informs Kevin how Marango behaves diplomatically when there is a shortage and an excess in the number of staff:
You think he is kind? He is a bastard! He talks like that because it is summer now. Not enough staff to serve all his customers, that is why he is kind. Wait till winter. Fewer customers. Then you’ll see. The fish is burnt! Too much mise-en-place. The soup is sour! A man? A restaurant! I tell you – he goes to market at five-thirty in the morning, returns, reads the mail, goes to the office and then comes down here to watch the service. Here he stands, sometimes he walks round touching the hot-plate, closing the hot-plate doors, looking inside this thing then that thing. Till the last customer he stays, then he has a sleep upstairs in his office. Half an hour after we come back, he is here again – till nine-thirty, maybe ten at night. Everyday, morning to night. What kind of a life is that, in a kitchen! Is that a life I ask you? (Wesker p.44)
The preparation and distribution of food is the central theme in these works. Though there is an abundance of food in The Kitchen, it is not open to the staff. Peter is an angry young man who cannot bear any injustice. When a tramp is provided with a dirty tin of soup, Peter tosses it into the dustbin. Peter hurriedly snatches two meat cutlets from Hans’ station and thrusts them into the Tramp’s hands. On realising that Peter has given cutlets to the Tramp, the Chef asks, “Mr Marango told you to give him?” He further questions, “ You have authority suddenly?”. Peter answers impatiently, “So what’s a couple of cutlets – we going bankrupt or something?” Chef replies, “It’s money, that’s what, and it’s me who’s Chef that’s what, and…” He also states that though Peter has more than three years at the Tivoli, the chef can sack him. When the matter is reported to Marango, he says, “Sabotage… It’s sabotage you do to me… It’s my fortune here and you give it away…(Wesker p.103-104). One cannot act according to one’s free will in a workplace. All workers other than Peter were indifferent to the tramp. Their thoughts are frozen, their minds become inactive and they do not have the courage to do something against the system. They are always under surveillance and under threat of being sacked. Moreover, people can refuse the new duties entrusted to them. When Monique is asked to change her duty to that of the hostess, she says, “That’s three times this week I’ve been hostess”. “The chief function of the disciplinary power is to ‘train’, rather than to select and to levy; or, no doubt, to train in order to levy and select all the more” (Foucault 170).
Susheela is the most affectionate person in Joker as she is the provider of food. She acts selflessly. More than the proprietor, she considers it her primary responsibility to feed the sixty workers of the circus group. She steals vegetables from the unattended neighbouring lands and cooks food for all the people who live in the tent. She understands the food requirement of each person. She becomes annoyed with Ranjan Papa Saab who eats food preserved for others as he cannot bear hunger.
Marango, the proprietor, is an old man of seventy-five with a sad expression on his face. He suspects that everybody is conspiring against him. Cynthia says that Winnie has been rushed to the hospital as she is pregnant. Cynthia reports that Marango’s hopping mad as she spilt wine over a customer when she got her first pains in the dining room. She gets pain because she took pills. According to Cynthia, four other girls have taken the same pills for miscarriage.
The love relationship between Monique and Peter is an important theme in the play. Peter continues working in the restaurant only to fulfil his strong desire of living with Monique. Monique is not genuine in her relationship with Peter. She is highly materialistic and does not want to leave her husband who is financially more stable than Peter. But he loves her dearly:
MONIQUE: Where? PETER: To buy you a birthday present.
MONIQUE: But it’s not my birthday.
PETER takes out a necklace, places it round her neck.
PETER: I will make every day your birthday. She’s delighted and now turns to pull him to her, biting his neck. (Wesker p.107)
There is surveillance with which the lovers try to control each other as Peter asks Monique not to flirt with customers. Monique has disappointed Peter by twice dissolving her pregnancy. Peter is ready to take responsibility of the pregnancy as it is his baby. He wants to leave the kitchen with Monique.
HETTIE: Two coffees, Annie.
PETER: Let’s leave tomorrow. Tomorrow, Monique. Imagine – fly from all this to somewhere beautiful. Think about it.
MONIQUE: I’m going to the hair-dresser tomorrow.
PETER: Monique, we row this morning, we row this afternoon, this evening we are in love again… Answer me.
GWEN: (To ALFRED.) Two roast beef.
PETER: Monique – answer me!
MONIQUE: Did I tell you Monty is buying us a new house? PETER: (Screaming.) Monique! (Wesker p.112)
Peter is totally disturbed when he hears Monique’s plan of staying in the new house with Monty. He is not able to concentrate on his work. To worsen the situation the queue becomes long at his station:
DAPHNE: (To PETER.) Three cod.
PETER: It’s not ready yet.
DAPHNE: Oh come on, Peter, three cod.
PETER: It’s not ready yet, come back five minutes’ time.
GWEN: (To PETER who’s dished out more.) Only one turbot for Christ’s sake.
JACKIE: (To PETER.) Two halibut.
VIOLET: (To PETER.) My three turbot.(Wesker p.116)
Peter loses control as the queue has grown. Violet becomes impatient and picks up the plate and moves behind the serving counter to the oven attempting to help herself from a tray. Peter takes it from her and pushes her back and asks her to wait. He further states, “This is my place and there (Points to other side of serving counter.) there is for you!” He also adds, “You don’t worry who I am. I’m the cook, yes? And you’re the waitress, and in the kitchen, I do what I like, yes? And in the dining-room you do what you like.” Peter turns his back on her imagining his word will be taken as final. But Violet is not ready for a compromise. Peter screams and smashes the plate from her hand. Peter shouts, “Leave it! Leave it there! I’ll serve you. Me! Me! Is my kingdom here. This is the side where I live. This!”. Violet very quietly says, “You Boche, you. You bloody German bastard! On hearing him addressed as a bastard, Peter infuriates, ”What you call me? What was it? Say it again! SAY IT AGAIN! His scream halts her, petrified”. (Wesker p.116)
Peter sweeps plates off his counter. Other chefs run to grab and control him. He hauls them off, takes a meat-axe and chases Violet with it. Peter turns to the gas-lead at which he hacks. All the fires in the ovens die down. Before everyone realises what has happened, Michael says, “He’s broken the gas lead! Someone turn off the main.” The whole kitchen is disturbed. Marango is totally disturbed by the course of events and states:
Why does everybody sabotage me, Frank? I give work, I pay well, yes? They eat what they want, don’t they? I don’t know what more to give a man. He works, he eats, I give him money. This is life, isn’t it? I haven’t made a mistake, have I? I live in the right world, don’t I? (To PETER.) And you’ve stopped this world. A shnip! A boy! You’ve stopped it. Why? Maybe you can tell me something I don’t know. Just tell me. I want to learn something. (To all in the kitchen.) Is there something I don’t know? .(Wesker p.120)
In Joker, when the major character Babu, wearing a torn shoe rushes to the stage for the next performance, a piece of glass pricks his feet. There is a one-minute delay which creates chaos. The proprietor fires the manager, Kader, stating that the show must go on even if there is ”chora or chera”(blood or snake). In the kitchen there is a fixed place for the people to work; they move from station to station. But in Joker, after the performance in a specific place for a period of time, the circus group has to move along with their professional materials and personal stuff like cot, bed, food, clothing and so on. There is no fixed shelter for them.
An abled beautiful body is a requirement to fit into the game of circus. The unhealthy person is unfit in the show. Old people are unseen and unheard. “…..ageing is usually understood as an inexorable decline, involving shrinking, atrophy and a loss of mental capacity”( Barry 132). The clown Abukka who used to get a lot of applause for his comic gestures has turned insane. He is chained as he is insane. When others get ready for the show he also insists to perform, but unfortunately he is caged. Old people become a burden for everyone. After sending all the money, they earned to their family members, they are not welcomed back to their homes. “The classical age discovered the body as an object and target of power. It is easy enough to find signs of the attention then paid to the body - to the body that is manipulated, shaped, trained, which obeys, responds, becomes skilful and increases its forces” ( Foucault 136). In order to entertain the audience, the artists in the camp swallow fire, jump from the roof and involve in all adventurous and comic gestures that would entertain the audience. But they enjoy life with each other. The intimacy which they share with each other is the strong reason for them to bear all the hurdles that come in between their journey. The exploitation of animals, women and children is evident in the movie. Trial and practising rounds portray the supremacy of superior staff. Good nutritious food required for children, women, men and animals is also denied due to financial constraints.
There is Class conflict and victimisation very evident in the movie and the play. In Joker, the workers become angry when the manager does not send money orders to their family members. Wily, the band artist, wants to go home for a festival but is denied that chance as there is no one to replace him. Wily loves Vanaja and that is the reason why he remains with the group. Though Vanaja does not love him in the beginning, the manager asks her to stop Wily from going home as his absence will be a threat to the circus group and they may not be able to run the show without his musical band. Vanaja thinks about the helpless situation of her family and obeys the orders of the manager.
The Royal Circus was formed by the proprietor, Govindan’s wife. The company was a success in the first ten years. Govindan at times thinks of dispersing the company. He asks his daughter and her would-be husband, Babu to decide the future of the company.
Even the tigers have to be fed 5 kilograms of meat each day. Moreover, the proprietor shows mercy to protect the bedridden Shantha and Mohanan. Abukka cannot return to his home as his wife and children do not require him. They live like members of a Joint family with a strong affinity with each other. Kamala discontinues education as her father is not able to pay the fee. Jabbar’s gang attacks the camp frequently as the proprietor has borrowed 3 lakh rupees from him. The quarrels between Jameela and Susheela disturb Babu. They use personal matters to attack each other.
The visit of Sudheer Mishra (Sudhakaran or Sudhi) to the circus camp brings drastic change to the impoverished situation. Though nobody could recognise him at first sight, they started showering love upon him when they realised that he is the son of Padmini, the old artist of the Royal circus. The most sensible words come from senseless Abukka who asks Babu and Kamala to invite Sudheer to their circus. Unfortunately, the harmony among the members is lost with his entry. He was ready to join the royal circus on one condition that he should be given absolute freedom. He openly states that cheap sentiment is the reason for the failure of the circus. As Govindan is shouldering all waste, he calls it an orphanage. With the implementation of Sudheer’s ideas, the royal circus transforms into the New Royal Circus and flourishes well. But it creates a prison around the minds of the people. He sells the elephant and his next attempt is to terminate people who are not productive. He advises Govindan to dismiss old useless people and get rid of the financial burden. Sudheer appreciates Babu’s movements which can mesmerise the audience. He also appreciates Kamala’s performance.
Disciplinary control does not consist simply in teaching or imposing a series of particular gestures; it imposes the best relation between a gesture and the overall position of the body, which is its condition of efficiency and speed. In the correct use of the body, which makes possible a correct use of time, nothing must remain idle or useless: everything must be called upon to form the support of the act required. A well-disciplined body forms the operational context of the slightest gesture. (Foucault 152)
Babu is disturbed as he doubts the intimacy between Sudheer and Kamala. Susheela promises to talk to Govindan and conduct the wedding of Babu and Kamala at the earliest. Though Govindan had promised his daughter’s hands to Babu earlier, with the success of the New Royal Circus brought by Sudheer’s innovative ideas, he is reluctant towards their union. He blames himself for feeding the insane and the diseased who have no place to go. In a verbal conflict with the proprietor related to the marriage of Babu and Kamala, Susheela decides to leave the circus company along with her bedridden husband and Shantha whom she treats as her own mother. Sudheer’s plan of terminating useless people easily gets executed.
Face painting is an important tool in the circus. The Joker’s face is painted with bright colours. It becomes a mask for the joker to hide the real feelings. When Jabbar’s gang attacks them just before the show, Babu is hurt. The manager allowed Sudheer and Kamala to take rest but asks Babu to do the number. Joker should not feel tired, hungry or thirsty. Abukka advises the disturbed and emotional Babu that a joker should not cry. It is also a universal fact that when joker cries people will laugh. Abukka always wears the joker’s dress and gets ready with his face painted for the show. A strong intimacy is created between Abukka and Babu while Babu paints Abukka’s face every day. Abukka asks everyone when his number would be. Everyone informs that it would be just before the show ends. He waits with that hope each day in the cage. Once when he reaches the stage in between the show, all others on the stage are disturbed. He is forcefully moved from the place. By the end of the show, he is attacked and killed by the tigers in the cage. Even during the moments of life and death, when all the artists assemble before the dying Abukka, Govindan says that the show should go on as usual. Abukka is fooled by everyone, but finally, he performs the last role and vanishes from the stage forever.
The world is a stage for Shakespeare but the stage becomes the world for the characters in Joker and The Kitchen. In both the play and the movie, dream plays a vital role and it is a major factor which motivates the workers to stay in their respective institutions. It depicts the brutality of the victimization which occurs in the capitalized society. The works present the futility of human existence in a commercialised social structure where one’s identity is determined by the dishes s/he prepares or the performances s/he does on the circus stage. The vanity of human existence is evident as the close reading of the works indicates that even the proprietors Marango and Govindan are not happy. Both the play and the movie are realistic and deal with the real problems of the marginalised category. Sympathy, compassion and love are feelings to be subdued in the competition of life where money plays an important role. Even those characters who sympathise and show small gestures of concern are subjected to abuse and punishment by the people in power. Punitive laws exist in all workplaces. The workspace becomes a madhouse in which everyone is prisoned. “In discipline, punishment is only one element of a double system: gratification-punishment. And it is this system that operates in the process of training and correction” ( Foucault 180). The number of people who watch the circus thrills the artists as they are gratified with the applause and the huge money the ticket counter will receive. The workers try their level best to participate in the training sessions so that they can perform well.
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