July 1-3, 2014
The Lunchbox is a very honest film about the trials and tribulations of two individuals struggling through life in Mumbai (Bombay), India. When Ila (Nimrat Kaur), a housewife struggling to keep her happiness afloat, and Saajan Fernandes (Irrfan Khan), a claims adjuster feeling uncertain for his future, discover each other, the feelings they develop in their correspondence helps them live through difficult times. Interestingly, the way they meet is through a special lunch delivery service.
Unlike the traditional lunch boxes that kids take to school in North America or delivery services in Japan, where bikes with huge square-shaped containers are used, the “take-out” system is different in India. Segmented cylindrical containers (known as tiffins) contain a hot food item (typically cooked fresh that morning) in each part, and it’s delivered in a cloth bag to the office worker. Instead of going out to some diner, they can hit the lunch room. When a city is as huge as Mumbai, just how this delivery system can continue without error has to be asked and the answer is simply that all containers are marked with a unique code to insure the food goes to the right office building, desk and person.
But once in a while, a mistake can happen.
One day, Ila decides to spruce up a meal but when her husband says he doesn’t like cauliflower, she starts wondering where her meals are going to. When the lunch container is returned to her empty, she’s happy but she has to wonder who has been eating her food. Eventually she includes a note that thanks Fernandes for enjoying the meal. She never bothers to confront the Dabbawala, the person who delivers these packaged lunches, about the mistake because the dialogue these two strike up is like a message in a bottle.
Audiences tired of the way cinematic romances are typically depicted will have to see this film. Although its narrative feels bittersweet and forlorn, the way it helps lifts the spirits is simply in how these two lead characters connect. Quite often, people forget to slow down, if not stop, to smell the roses. Sometimes they fail to notice the person looking back, and smiling, at them.
Some viewers may wonder if how much of Batra’s own personal life is injected into this film. Kahn gives a very understated performance to show the pathos of how the despondent Fernandes has fallen through the cracks. Through the letters he writes to Ila, audiences learn he was once happy. But when his wife died, his world fell apart. He would rather blend into the background than to discover something new. In contrast, Ila seems happy, but there’s problems to be seen when audiences see that the husband is often distant. His behaviour changed since they married, and this use of juxtaposition really brings out the story about Fernandes reconnecting with society. In what he discovers about himself, that’s what makes this film charming.
4 Blokes out of 5