India’s lunch delivery system successfully transports lunches from home kitchens to the offices of thousands of workers (predominately in Mumbai) daily. Renowned for its punctuality and accuracy, the system is almost flawless (a Harvard study even backs up this claim). What happens when the lunch prepared by one lonely housewife goes astray? My review of The Lunchbox after the jump.
Hoping to attract the attention of her increasingly distant husband, Ila (Nimrat Kaur) pours her love into preparing him a special lunch, which is delivered to his office by the dabbawalas, the lunchbox delivery men. Upon his return in the evening Ila questions him on the quality of lunch and he replies, “the cauliflower was good”. Instantly Ila realises that the delivery men made a rare mistake and her lunchbox went to someone else. The next day Ila prepares her husbands favourite dish and sends with a note of thanks for returning the lunchbox empty. Upon opening his delicious-smelling lunch, Saajan (Irrfan Khan) is surprised to find a folded note. This is the most interesting thing to have happened in the accountant’s quiet life for many years, and he covertly writes Ila a reply note.
Two strangers are connected by chance and loneliness. Would they have continued to exchange notes in this fashion if their lives had been fuller? It is unlikely. The Lunchbox is a beautiful exploration of loneliness and why human connection (in any form) is vital to a happy life. Irrfan Khan is excellent as the softly spoken, curt accountant. After losing his wife it seems he has lost his will for life and he merely exists. When he is asked to train his replacement (Shaikh, played wonderfully by Nawazuddin Siddiqui) he is annoyed and pushes the young man away. Sarjaan is finally convinced to help Shaikh and the two men strike up an odd friendship. When we learn Shaikh’s story it is incredibly moving and it also brings home the film’s message of the importance of human connection. All three of our main characters are isolated in their own way and it is their interactions with each other which help them find a way forward in their respective lives.
The lunchbox delivery system is fascinating and the sequences showing the dabbawalas in action transport you to the heat of Mumbai. The music, the colours, the energy – it really is something uniquely Indian. I greatly admired the editing of these delivery scenes, as well as those which crossed between Ila writing the note and Sarjaan reading it. Zipping through Mumbai on public transport with the characters, we were treated to a small taste of the vibrant, varied city life. I could have happily spent longer walking the bustling streets and gazing at the captivating view. The food that features in this film had me salivating and will have you craving the perfect Indian dish.
Ritesh Batra has created an extremely accomplished first feature with The Lunchbox, a sweet film with a dash of humour, a sprinkle of tears and a large serve of heart.
By Sam McCosh
Director: Ritesh Batra
Writer(s): Ritesh Batra
Starring: Irrfan Khan, Nimrat Kaur, Nawazuddin Siddiqui
Runtime: 104 minutes
Release date(s): Australia: July 10 2014; New Zealand: Screening as part of NZIFF in July & August