16 Oct The Lunchbox (India)
SUNDAY 17 May 10.00 am
TUESDAY 19 May 8.15 pm
RUNNING TIME 101 minutes
Mumbai’s famously efficient lunchbox delivery system transports thousands of meals daily from kitchens to offices. One in a million lunchboxes is delivered to the wrong address. This is the story of that one lunchbox. Ila (Minrat Kaur) hopes to spice up her marriage by preparing special lunches for her husband, but the lunchbox is delivered to Saajan (Irrfan Khan), a widower on the brink of retirement. They start to exchange notes – learning about each other and themselves.
REVIEW BY LOUISE KELLER
“Sometimes, the wrong train will get you to the right station” is a key expression in this rich relationship tapestry as it weaves its textures of loneliness through culinary pleasures. In this case, it’s the wrong lunch that reaches the right recipient and writer director Ritesh Batra in his debut feature, stirs his flavours gently, allowing the delicate aromas of human interaction to blossom unexpectedly in a heart-warming romance. The lunchbox (or rather an Indian version, comprising six stainless steel ramekins stacked on top of each other that lock together in readiness for easy delivery) is the catalyst that connects two strangers, changing the dynamics of both their lives as they begin a fascinating exchange about things big and small. It’s a beautiful film that gets to the heart of human behaviour – observant, real – and above all involves us in the magnetism that draws two people to each other.
When the film begins, we meet lovely Ila (Nimrat Kaur), cooking all kinds of delicious delicacies for her husband’s lunch, hoping the proverb that suggests the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach is true. We learn what is in Ila’s thoughts and heart through her amusing exchanges with her (unseen) aunt, who lives in the apartment above, and with whom she converses through an open window. Her delight is apparent when the lunch ramekins (couched in a distinctive green container that could hold a bottle of wine in another culture) are returned by the office lunch service courier bearing the seal of approval. They are empty. We quickly learn that it was not her husband who received the lunch. A little note hidden under the chapatti starts the ball rolling, but the exchange does not proceed as expected.
Irrfan Khan, known to western audiences for his memorable performance in Life of Pi, plays Saajan, the reclusive accountant who has been running the claims department in a busy firm for 35 years and is about to retire. The arrival of the green lunchbox carry case soon becomes the daily highlight, the note becoming even more important than the tantalising food. Saajan’s replacement Shaikh (Nawazuddin Siddiqui), an extravert who appreciates good food, is initially a pain in the neck as he is eager to spend time with Saajan – for training and company. But their relationship develops too as we learn intimate details about both their lives and that of Ila and her family.
Stories about whirring fans, a cigarette on a balcony, the reflection of a laughing woman on a television screen, a scooter with red roses, a sad news story and the offer of a seat in a bustling Mumbai train … these all form the colour and texture of the backdrop on which the characters exist. Tension is cleverly built around the issue of whether or not Ila and Saajan will meet – after all, their exchanges have set them both on new roads, heading in new directions.
While we do see a few shots of scrumptious looking dishes, food is mostly used symbolically and as a tool in the budding relationships between the three central characters. Some may find the ending rather abrupt, although it plays truthfully, allowing the audience to make its own assessment of the story’s resolution. This is a charming film that lingers and whose melancholy note sings sweetly.