SRIMOYEE T PHUKAN reviews the film ‘The Lunch Box’
With the hype around debutant writer-director, Ritesh Batra’s film, The Lunchbox, it is unlikely that it would not ring a bell even with cinema novices. After garnering rave reviews over film festivals, and from being touted to represent India in the Oscars, to a Guajarati film snatching the coveted place, this one has done the rounds and how! I think we all are aware of the unreal expectations such hype builds-up, often leading to disappointments. But not this one. This quiet little film will have you in grips from the very first scene as a home-maker volleys through her morning chores. And as the story unfolds, you will find the little surprises tucked cleverly like the ‘lunchboxes’ she craftily prepares.
The first few minutes of the film skillfully present the long distance a dabba travels from the kitchen to the desk of its intended recipient. But although the writer-director claims to have been inspired by the dabbawallas (lunch box delivery men) of Mumbai, the premise of this story is the people who rely on them. The film revolves around a grumpy widower, Saajan Fernandez, ably played by Irrfan Khan, who is nearing his retirement in a government job. A man of few words, his only after-office exercise is to watch television. And a stay-at-home mother, Ila (played by Nimrat Kaur),of a school-going girl, whose life is defined by the lunchboxes she prepares for her husband day-after-day, and her relationship with the well-meaning aunty who lives above her – her only window to a social life. The only instance that promises a spark in her life is when her meticulously prepared lunchbox accidently gets delivered to Mr. Fernandez by the dabbawalla, leading to exchange of remarks on the food, to exchange of information about each other’s lives, to sharing of dreams and their empty lives. In an interesting turn of events, they dreamily plan a visit to Bhutan, both acutely aware of the impossibility of its fate, and wonder what it would be like to have ‘Gross Domestic Happiness’ in their lives like in Bhutan!
Nimrat Kaur is stellar in her role of a woman whose life is falling apart, with a thankless and disloyal husband, a dead brother, an ailing father and a helpless mother. But none of these require ‘shouting-from-roof-top’ that can be expected from most of our films. For instance, it only takes a whiff off the shirt of her husband while doing laundry to learn about her strayed marriage which she later divulges in a very matter-of-fact way to Saajan. Again, in another scene, Saajan talks about how he has started smelling like his grandfather – a hint at his aging body. The third wheel in the film, Shaikh, played by Nawazuddin Siddiqui, is the incorrigibly nagging newbie in the office, who is to take over from Saajan. Shaikh is endearing in his initial failed attempts at befriending Saajan and it is a delight to watch their friendship blossom during the course of the film.
This film is a slice of life presented in a deliciously unhurried pace and with utmost restraint. It captures the steely loneliness of the life of a metropolis like that of Mumbai’s, but its open end leaves one hopeful. In this fast paced life it is heart-warming to bump into something which is so delicate and charmingly old world like this simple love story. A line in the film that captures its essence aptly is: “Sometimes even the wrong train can take you to the right destination.” Though this movie is far from going wrong in any department, it arrives in the right station and is here to stay. The vignettes of Mumbai in its cluttered flats and the local train are likely to remind you of Dhobi Ghaat. In this light, both films can be seen as an ode to Mumbai, yet they are so much more that just that.
This film is a must watch for your own sake, it will touch you in the right places and have you recommend it to the next person you get hold of.