By Ritu Mediratta
“The Lunchbox,” Ritesh Batra’s debut feature, is a romance that takes place in Mumbai, but its style is more Hollywood than Bollywood – it feels every bit an old fashioned Hollywood film. However, “The Lunchbox” is no Hollywood film. It is an only-in-Mumbai story, a sweet Indian import that boasts a touch of the exotic while bringing in some universal themes.
The film, a hit at the Cannes Film Festival, is built around the unexpected meeting of two lonely hearts and all the metaphorical implications of lovingly prepared food. The food in this case comes delivered in lunchboxes known as tiffin boxes, or “dabba,” that are collected from Indian homes daily by “dabbawallas” who carry the hot food to workers in Mumbai’s teeming office buildings, then return the empty containers home later in the day.
“The Lunchbox” is about a mistaken delivery in Mumbai’s famously efficient lunchbox delivery system that connects a young housewife to an old man in the dusk of his life as they build a fantasy world together through notes in the lunchbox. The main characters are Ila (Nimrat Kaur), a neglected housewife, and Mr. Fernandes (Irrfan Khan), a widowed office worker nearing retirement. Ila launders her husband’s shirts by hand and cooks lunches that are supposed to be delivered to him, via bicycle, rail and the shoulders of white-jacketed couriers dabbawallas through Mumbai’s elaborate and storied meal-delivery system. Irrfan Khan better know as the grown-up Pi in “Life of Pi,” the father in “The Namesake,” the police interrogator of “Slumdog Millionaire.” In “The Lunchbox,” he plays Saajan, a government claims processor nearing retirement after 35 years behind a desk. His wife having died, the childless Saajan is a cold, prickly grouch avoided by all. One day, a lunchbox prepared by Ila (Nimrat) for her husband somehow reaches Saajan instead. He devours her delicacies, the empty box returned evidence of his enjoyment. Annoyed by the stranger’s lack of thanks, Ila sends him another lunchbox with a sarcastic note. These notes ultimately turn into romance between two strangers.
The Lunchbox is full of appetite and features a highly intelligent plot with wonderful performances that no doubt will be paid attention to when awards season rolls around! A film that has already achieved world-wide acclaim, it is one to savor and enjoy, and an experience that touches the soul and livens the senses.
The Lunchbox is now available on Xfinity on Demand™.