Movie review: The Lunchbox

The Lunchbox

Cast: Irrfan Khan, Nimrat Kaur, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Bharati Achrekar

Direction: Ritesh Batra

Rating: 4 Star Rating: Recommended4 Star Rating: Recommended4 Star Rating: Recommended4 Star Rating: Recommended

“There is no value for talent in this country,” says Mr Saajan Fernandez (Irrfan Khan), a government claims official on the brink of retirement, to Shaikh (Nawazuddin Siddiqui), the man set to replace him. That the line is exchanged between two of the most talented actors in the country is either a mere coincidence or a subtle joke from debutant director Ritesh Batra. 

There are plenty of such delightful moments in this sweet romance which occurs courtesy an unlikely event: a lunchbox delivered by Mumbai’s dabbawalas lands at the wrong address. This isn’t a mistake, Batra wants us to believe. It’s destiny or a miracle. Nobody’s complaining about the wrong delivery. Neither Mr Fernades, a standoffish widower, who is happy to savour home-cooked meals from the perfunctory restaurant food; nor Ila (Nimrat Kaur), the neglected housewife who is happy that unlike her husband (Nakul Vaid) there is finally someone who wipes the dabba clean. 

A beautiful relationship blossoms between the two. Here’s the twist. It develops through sweet, honest and moving notes exchanged in the dabba. Mr Fernandes, a Christian resident from Bandra, writes in English. Ila, a melancholic housewife in Malad East, in Hindi. There is an instant connection. So what if the two don’t know what the other looks like. Batra convinces viewers that in the age of social networking and email, a romance built on hand-written letters is possible. Soon Ila and Saajan’s life revolves around these brief but messages in which personal thoughts and messages are exchanged. Both want to break away from the dull routines of their life. Batra keeps viewers hooked with the will they, won’t they routine without testing the nerves. 

Batra draws us into the world of the two solitary souls. He also does a credible job of selling nostalgia. There’s Mr Fernandes enjoying a taping of his late wife’s favourite show, Yeh Jo Hai Zindagi. There’s Ila revisiting the title track of Saajan and blushing in the kitchen. There’s the aunty from upstairs who drops a tokri (basket) with ingredients and spices which she hopes will help Ila woo her husband. She is never seen her but her voice seems familiar. You smile as you realise it’s Bharti Achrekar, Mrs Wagle from Wagle ki Duniya.  

The Lunchbox’s micro world comes alive with finely etched characters, genuine emotions and a cute-clever love story that tugs the heartstrings. Mumbai is a character too here. There are glimpses of chaotic Mumbai – the jam-packed trains, the crowded buses and a bustling office canteen. Yet Batra shows how it is possible to feel so alone in the maximum city. 

Kaur, without make-up for most of the film, is commendable as a neglected housewife. Most of her time is spent reacting to the notes in private and she embodies the dispirited mood of her character ably. Siddiqui as the enthusiastic trainee manages to make what may come across as annoying, endearing. Watch how he is able to say – “Hello. Good Morning Sir! Kaise Hai aap? Training kab shuru kare?” – sound different each time. It’s Khan who stands out as he effortlessly loses himself to a character older than him. He underplays Saajan and never lets the character’s aloofness come across as rudeness. 

With The Lunchbox, Batra has delivered a delicious, self-assured debut which hits all the right notes or should we say, taste buds.  It makes you want to run not to the nearest restaurant but home, craving for your mother’s food or relish cooking a hot chapatti.

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