The Lunchbox is Ritesh Batra’s feature directing debut but don’t be fooled by the resume – it’s a refreshingly mature narrative from a storyteller with a distinct (and evocative) point of view. Batra left Bombay for 14 years before shooting The Lunchbox in 2012, and it’s his years away from home which gives this well etched tale a textured mix of sentimentality and heartache.
Ila (a luminous Nimrat Kaur) is a housewife whose neglectful husband seems to love his phone more than his spouse or daughter. It’s a family that doesn’t say much around the dinner table, and Ila attempts to woo her love back by putting her heart and soul into her cooking. Whether it’s using her grandmother’s old recipes or receiving sage culinary tips from her auntie (a hilarious Bharati Achrekar, who is not seen but heard, the story), Ila’s new dishes have a flavorful verve which should at least fill her husband’s stomach.
Due to an error in Bombay’s lunchbox delivery service, Ila’s meals are sent to Saajan (Life of Pi’s Irrfan Khan), a lonely accountant on the verge of retirement. Upon first glance, Saajan is a total misanthrope, as he scolds the kids who play in front of his home and blatantly ignores Shaikh (Nawazuddin Siddiqui), a new employee who’s tasked with taking over Saajan’s position. He’s a loner through and through, and if he didn’t eat Ila’s delicious food, his life would be totally unappetizing.
But when Saajan tastes Ila’s food, a gradual revelation occurs, as he slowly begins to creep out of his shell. Though Ila realizes the lunchbox didn’t go to her husband, she lets the error continue, as she and Saajan share notes during these lunchtime exchanges. Their friendship, a rare occurrence in a city filled with strangers, gives The Lunchbox a slight fantastical touch (Ritesh Batra admits to sprinkling his film with magic realistic flourishes), but what grounds this film lies in its reality. We feel tragedy’s inevitable grasp take a hold on both of these lonelyhearts, and we can’t help but feel (and maybe empathize) over their respective plight.
Saajan, now in his autumnal years, merely wants to fade out of existence wherein Ila is trapped in a loveless union, wondering if life has also passed her by. Their exchange of ideas and dreams, all hidden within the guise of delicious sustenance, gives them a momentary window of hope and mutual acknowledgement.
The feature, grew out of Batra’s initial research into the Bombay lunchbox delivery service, gives viewers an insight into the city’s delirious hustle and bustle, where most denizens spend their lives on trains that take them to and from their jobs.
It’s a “lunchbox” style of existence which affects many of our lives, and we hope that Saajan and Ila break out of that mold, even if it means carving out a more fulfilling path on their own. Thankfully, the ambiguous ending (which I interpreted as extremely optimistic) lifts The Lunchbox to an even higher truth.
In life’s grand scheme, we have no idea where our train is going or when it’s going to stop. But with a bit of faith and courage, maybe we’ll end up in the right station.
Special Features: Aside from being a must see film, The Lunchbox Blu-ray edition also features audio commentary from writer/director Ritesh Batra. Much of the commentary has Batra focusing on the technical elements on the film (sound design, cinematography, editing), so it’s a worth a listen especially if you’re either a film geek or if directing peaks your interest.
Here’s a few facts about The Lunchbox that I learned from the commentary:
- Batra wrote the film’s final voiceover (from actress Nimrat Kaur) after shooting wrapped. It was penned during the editing process.
- The film was shot amidst the big city chaos of Bombay, so certain parts of the film’s dialogue needed a bit of ADR (looping) during the post-production process.
- Two scenes from The Lunchbox were shot on a soundstage.
- Ritesh Batra is a huge fan of the master shot (aka establishing scenes sans excessive cutting), and there’s a couple of these sequences in the film that you’ll hopefully love.
My favorite quote from the commentary has Batra detailing the difference between penning the script and going behind the camera: “When you are writing a film, the writing process (is) so much like the acting process – you are connected with your subconscious mind and you are making a lot of right decisions, because you are in the work or in that world. But when you’re directing a film, you’re concerned about everyone making the same film.”
“The Lunchbox” (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, PG, 104 minutes) comes out on Digital and as a Blu-ray Combo Pack on July 1, 2014.