Published Mar 20, 2014Will they or won't they? Throughout The Lunchbox, you'll find yourself asking just that. But while much of this story will leave you hanging, you'll certainly be craving Indian food by the end.
Making his feature debut as writer and director, Ritesh Batra's The Lunchbox is a charming, romantic tale playing off of Mumbai's famous meal-delivery system made up of dabbawallahs, a community of messengers who use a coding system of colours and symbols to deliver hot meals to workers in offices. It was famously concluded by Harvard University that in the system, just one in a million lunchboxes is sent to the wrong address; this film is the story of that one failed delivery.
Nimrat Kaur plays the film's female protagonist Ila, a middle class housewife trying to find her way back to her neglectful husband's heart. Deciding to do so through his stomach, she tries a new recipe at the suggestion of her feisty neighbour (Baharati Achrekar) who claims, "This recipe will do the trick for you, one bite and he will build you a Taj Mahal!"
But after carefully packaging the meal in a special lunchbox, she waits anxiously for her husband's response as it's delivered, but it never gets to him. Instead, the meal is sent to Saajan (Irrfan Khan), a widowed office worker about to retire. Suspicious about her husband's lack of response, Ila sends a little note the next day in the lunchbox to see who received her package. And with Saajan's reply, an unlikely friendship starts to blossom.
Playing out like Nora Ephron's You've Got Mail, the film's story is told through a series of notes sent by Ila and Saajan through the lunchbox. The pair's relationship deepens as they share their dreams, secrets and insecurities.
Unlike Ila's husband, Saajan is a grateful eater, finishing everything she cooks for him. And proving that food is truly the way to someone's heart, we see him opening himself up to life and its possibilities, including the thought of a future with Ila, a woman he's never met in person.
Clocking in at 104 minutes, The Lunchbox is about finding a human connection even though it plays to the theme of food bringing people together. That simplicity makes the film work.
Set amidst the hustle and bustle of Mumbai, the film relies on the great chemistry between its two leads and their quiet and nuanced performances.
Irrfan adds depth to his character as a man looking for company. He doesn't say much, but one can tell through his expressions during scenes at home that he is still quietly grieving his dead wife. The same can be said for Kaur, whose character is also dealing with issues of isolation at home with her husband. Her looks of disappointment and desperation suggest that she too is yearning for someone's support.
The Lunchbox also shines with understated humour through each character's anecdotes and delectable-looking meals prepared by Ila. Nawazuddin Siddiqui, who plays the newcomer hired to replace Saajan at his job, is also a fun addition to the cast, providing the film's witty one-liners.
The exchange between Ila and Saajan gets just a bit repetitive and tiring, especially since viewers may find themselves yearning for things to escalate. But though the ending may be unsatisfying to some viewers, what can be said is that Batra stays true to the simplicity of the project by keeping it subtle and realistic throughout.