“The Lunchbox” (2013)
In India, it is not uncommon for housewife’s to send their husbands lunches by way of an elaborate delivery system called the Dabbawalas. The Dabbawalas, even though some of the delivery men are illiterate, have an almost perfect record for delivering these lunches to their proper destinations. The system is complicated and sometimes the lunches, packed in elaborate stacking metal bins, travel by train and bicycle, but it is so successful in its correct deliveries that Harvard University studied it’s methods.
Ila (Nimrat Kaur) is an unhappy housewife, who feels more and more alone each day. Her husband barely acknowledges her when he comes home from work, coming through the door more concerned about his phone than his wife and child. Besides her controlling mother (Lillete Dubey) and her husband, Ila’s only source of human contact is her young daughter and her Auntie (Sharati Achrekar) who lives upstairs. Auntie is a sounding board for Ila as they communicate through yelling through their kitchen windows. Her Auntie tells her that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach and Ila decides to create lunch meals that her husband won’t soon forget.
Saajan (Irrfan Kahn) is a widower who after working for 35 years at a company is contemplating retirement. A solitary man who likes his routines, he spends his nights watching old VHS tapes of classic Indian television and movies. His life becomes slightly complicated when an eager young man (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) shows up at his desk ready to be trained by Saajan, a task that irritates him to no end.
The impossible happens and a lunch that was destined for Ila’s husband, instead finds its way to Saajan’s desk. Saajan, who has his lunches delivered from a local restaurant, is delighted in the improvement of his meal and even goes by the restaurant on his way home to compliment them. Meanwhile, Ila is delighted when the lunch containers come back, her husband has eaten every bite (something that he is not known for doing). But when her husband comes home and barely mentions the meal, complimenting her on an item she didn’t pack, she figures out that her meals are being delivered to the wrong place. Curious on who might be getting her lunches, she includes a note in the next meal, Saajan responds and a relationship through notes begins between the two strangers, one that may change their lives.
Much like the lunches that Ila makes, this movie slowly reveals itself to the viewers, as the containers of the lunches and the layers of the characters are revealed. It’s a film about loneliness; of a man who hasn’t been able to get over the death of his wife, and a housewife that feels neglected, taken for granted and maybe even cheated on. But it’s also about the human connection that we desperately need. The bonding and love between two people who express their feelings through notes and their actions.
Irrfan Kahn, as the sad and set in his ways Saajan, is perfect in this role. He has a screen presence that makes you take note of him, even though his character is very reserve and quiet. Nimrat Kaur, as the housewife Ila, is delightful, especially in her conversations she has through the window with her auntie. We instantly like Ila, wanting her to find happiness and the love she deserves.
The director, Ritesh Batra, is a first time feature director, who initially wanted to do a documentary about the delivery system, but we are rewarded with a much warmer and subtle film than a documentary could deliver. It’s a film with a love story between two lonely people that hits the mark without being conventional. Batra captures what it must be like to live in one of the busiest cities in the world, where it’s a miracle that people can not only find each other but can fall in love. Much like Ila’s lunches, it’s a film rich with colors, taste and subtle nuances that are deeply satisfying and rewarding.
My Rating: I Would Pay to See it Again
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“The Lunchbox” is playing exclusively at Landmark Midtown Art Cinema.