I only intended to watch one of the snack-size shorts from the new season of Grandmas Project, a web series in which film directors document their grandmothers as they cook at home. But in a couple of hours, glued to my laptop, I wolfed down the entire archive.
Made by mostly French directors, and featuring their immigrant grandmothers, the shorts had the same irresistible flavor as Martin Scorsese’s 1974 documentary “Italianamerican.” In its opening scenes, Catherine Scorsese, the director’s mother, sits on a shiny, plastic-wrapped couch and considers the silliness of her son’s film: “What should I say? You want me to tell you how I make the sauce?”
I have watched it countless times, always noticing some new, magnificent idiosyncrasy in Ms. Scorsese’s tone, her gestures, her humor, the precise clutter of her countertops and shelves. I thought of her again when I watched the charming short by Zeynep Dilara.
Ms. Dilara’s grandmother Munise Bostanci sings a beautiful, mournful song in Turkish while she simmers bulgur wheat with potato and onion for their lunch. She’s a little embarrassed by her singing, but says she doesn’t care. “Who’s going to watch anyway? My children and grandchildren?”
How typical of a grandma to underestimate her popularity and her reach! To treat a professional film shoot like a kid’s class project. In reality, grandfluencers command large, multigenerational audiences on TikTok, Instagram and YouTube. The internet has a boundless, almost compulsive appetite for watching wholesome old women go about the business of their everyday lives.
I’m thinking of Pasta Grannies, Vicky Bennison’s gentle YouTube series documenting the techniques of Italian grandmothers, which later became a cookbook. As well as larger amateur accounts like the family-run Veg Village Food, which features a 73-year-old Punjabi woman named Amar Kaur and typifies the genre.
More than five million followers tune in to watch Ms. Kaur cook bamboo biryani, golgappa with homemade puffs of pastry, eggplant pakoras, pizza, milkshakes, Oreo cakes and all kinds of twists on packaged noodles.
Ms. Kaur has a simple setup in her family’s courtyard — a wood-burning stove and outdoor tap for washing vegetables — but she cooks meals for about 100 children in her village, sometimes more. She works steadily and hardly speaks, except to identify the names of ingredients as she tosses them into gigantic pots and bowls.
Hardeep Sharma, one of her grandsons, shoots the videos and runs the account, and various cousins and uncles often help Ms. Kaur with the prep. In November, riding the popularity of the account, the family opened Veg Village Food, a restaurant in Mohali, in northern India, though Mr. Sharma told me his grandmother doesn’t work there — she still prefers cooking at home, as a public service, always giving away the food she makes. Fans adore and admire Ms. Kaur, and Mr. Sharma often translates the nicest comments for her.
Watching a grandmother cook can be educational, ambient or entertaining. It can be deeply nostalgic and emotional, too. It’s not a coincidence that, as Hannah Giorgis reported in The Atlantic, traffic for grandfluencer food accounts on TikTok tends to spike around the holidays, when younger users may be aching for familial connections they lost, or never had.
But the exhilaration of Grandmas Project isn’t in the cooking. The most interesting moments come when the grandmothers themselves offer commentary about the process of being turned into images of grandmothers — and their discomfort with it.
Lola Bessis’ Italian grandmother, who goes simply by “nonna,” was so uneasy about projecting an image of cozy, aging domesticity that, at first, her granddaughter explains, she resisted the project entirely. That resistance is understandable: Grandma content tends to flatten women out into an archetype: an industrious, uncomplaining source of hard-won knowledge, or a cute, benign, twinkly-eyed craftswoman.
Many of the women in Grandma Project are also sad, tired, angry and sometimes a little incoherent. They’re potty-mouthed and funny and inconsistent. They are lonely, or nostalgic, or eager to fix a date with their crushes who live downstairs. They are even, sometimes, sick of being filmed.
Munise Bostanci, who sings while she cooks, has had just about enough by the end of the shoot. She makes fun of her granddaughter for getting excited about the light streaming into the apartment, casting a dramatic shadow of cut roses on the wall. She cracks her granddaughter up with her complaints.
When Zaga Sondermajer-Stankovic bakes an elaborate Moskva torta for her granddaughter Mila Turajlic, she insists that Ms. Turajlic take a good look at the amount of pineapple spread on the first layer. The camera dutifully zooms in. But as far as Ms. Sondermajer-Stankovic is concerned, she isn’t doing this for an audience. “It’s not the camera that needs to look,” she insists, clearly annoyed. “It’s you!”
Justina Teres talks about the sex she used to have with her late husband, and how it could feel transactional for her. Sabina Onet shares her recurring dream of being the kind of woman who lives on a prairie and carries a rifle. The portraits are brief, but intimate, and it’s easy to forget that these women are speaking to their grandchildren — not to us.
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