In the middle of your daily, mundane routine, someone plops a lunchbox down on your table. But you realize that something is wrong. It isn’t yours. But the moment you open it, you realize that something is so, so very right. The fragrance that emanates from it takes you back to a simpler, happier time.
That’s the story of The Lunchbox, and it is also the effect that the film will have on you.
Written and directed by Ritesh Batra, the film is truly a breath of fresh air in today’s world of Dabangg and Grand Masti. It is about a widower, Saajan Fernandes, at a crossroads in his life, and waiting at that crossroads, somewhat by accident, is a neglected housewife (Ila). Woven around a rare mistake by Mumbai’s legendary dabbawallahs, The Lunchbox poses some extremely poignant questions. One is on the poster – can you fall in love with someone you’ve never met? Is it ever too late to fall in love? At what point do you call it quits in a marriage? How do you make sure that you don’t neglect your loved ones?
The film may not answer these questions, but it will set your mind on a rollercoaster the way few films have managed to do in the recent past. And that is my favourite kind of film – one that lingers in your mind even when the film itself is long over. But despite posing questions, the film doesn’t over-reach. It does not try to be something that it is not. It just tries to be the best of what it actually is.
The Lunchbox isn’t long (just under two hours), but it packs more of a punch than most films can in twice that time. It sufficiently describes the angst of two people so desperately searching for someone to talk to, that they’ll resort to slipping hastily-written notes into a lunch dabba. There are so many things in the film that we’re already aware of, but scarcely give more than a fleeting thought to. As Saajan so succinctly puts it, “I think we forget things if we have no one to tell them to”.
Make no mistake, this film is placed firmly in the indie category, and that is one of the greatest tragedies of today. The people next to me in the theatre, before leaving, remarked that it would have been better if they had gone for Grand Masti instead. The fact that people would choose a crass, crude and degrading film over a subtle, simple and nuanced one like this is really saddening. And as I write this, The Lunchbox has been passed over for a Gujarati film as our official entry to the Oscars. Sigh.
There are no songs in the film. There’s minimal dialogue. There are fewer characters than you’ve ever seen in a full-length feature film. So much about this movie breaks the mould, that you want to throw it away altogether.
Irrfan Khan, as expected, does a masterful job as the soon-to-be-retired Saajan Fernandes. His performance’s beauty lies in the little details – the tiny ways in which he shows us an aging man who’s been bent, but not broken, by life. Nawazuddin Siddiqui is brilliant as the initially irritating Shaikh. He’s the one who keeps getting Fernandes to do things that he doesn’t want to. The film, however, belongs to Nimrat Kaur‘s Ila. As the housewife trying to find her way back into her husband’s heart through his stomach, she’s confident and vulnerable, all at the same time. The rest of the cast, including one character who’s just a voice, fulfills their expectations perfectly as well. And all this is brought together beautifully by Ritesh Batra’s direction, which is spot on.
This film has more extended close-ups than any other Hindi movie I’ve seen. You may or may not like that, but it’ll definitely make you take a closer look at yourself.
I’m no reviewer, but I’d give The Lunchbox five out of five.