By Jess Lomas
July 8, 2014
Sometimes the wrong train will get you to the right station, and sometimes the wrong lunchbox will lead you to the right person. Writer-director Ritesh Batra makes his feature debut with The Lunchbox, an impressive romantic drama in the vein of Ernst Lubitsch’s The Shop Around the Corner (or You’ve Got Mail, for modern audiences). The lost art of letter writing is resurrected here, set against a bustling Mumbai where Dabbawallas run the daily lunchbox delivery service like clockwork.
The delivery system is something to behold: hot food prepared by wives and packed in tiffins, picked up from homes around the city and transported to the husbands’ offices in time for lunch. One delivery man boasts the system is so good that men from Harvard have come to study it. However one day, Ila’s (Nimrat Kaur) prepared meal inexplicably gets delivered to the wrong desk; that of Saajan Fernandes (Irrfan Khan).
Saajan is a lonely, widowed accountant in his final weeks before an early retirement. He is indifferent to his colleagues, especially when forced to train his bubbly, eager-to-please replacement, Shakih (Nawazuddin Siddiqui). When Saajan mistakenly gets Ila’s home-cooked lunch instead of his store-ordered one, the pair begin leaving notes in the tiffins for each other; polite exchanges that soon develop into meaningful correspondence as the two grow closer. When Ila reveals her unhappy marriage to Saajan, and a plan to run away with her daughter to Bhutan, she invites him to join her. But not before meeting.
The Lunchbox is a true surprise, and appears to be marketed more as a romantic comedy than what the actual film delivers. There is humour sprinkled throughout, and more than one instance that invokes a toothy grin, but largely the movie is a vivid and stirring story of life’s hardships and the unexpected friendship that is Ila and Saajan’s salvation.
What is refreshing about The Lunchbox, which perhaps stems from the culture of its creator, is its non-Hollywood approach to Ila and Saajan’s relationship. The less is more technique is reminiscent of David Lean’s Brief Encounter, where romantic stereotypes are challenged by a code of conduct, in this case: Is Saajan too old for Ila? Is he better to follow his head instead of his heart?
The Lunchbox is the kind of picture that envelopes you like a warm blanket, charming you with its slow-building affection and life-altering curries.
The Lunchbox arrives in cinemas July 10, 2014.