The Lunchbox – Epistolary

The Lunchbox (2013)

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Directed by: Ritesh Batra

Cast: Irrfan Khan, Nimrat Kaur, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Lillete Dubey, Bharati Achrekar

Language: Hindi

The wrong train can lead you to the right station

It is often said that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach but this movie establishes the fact that the way to a woman’s heart is through her ears. Everybody needs appreciation- it makes you feel important and more importantly, loved. The lunchbox talks about loneliness and lack of communication in today’s world. Also, it captures the essence of Mumbai through its biggest brand ambassadors “Dabbawalas”.

Ila (Nimrat Kaur) is a regular housewife whose daily fight is to impress her husband. Her only avenue where her efforts are quantifiable is cooking and she goes to lengths to reach his heart and spice up her life. Her upstairs neighbor “aunty” (Bharti Achrekar – voice only) supports her in this endeavor by giving recipe tips, masalas and life advice from time to time. Interactions with Aunty bring in humor to this otherwise morose movie. Her daily routine is to do the household chores and cook up lunch which she sends through the dabbawalas and as they are famous for, the system runs like a machine, reaching the destined owner every single time, except when it doesn’t and by some mix-up of addresses the lunches start getting delivered to Saajan Fernandez (Irrfan Khan) instead. She realizes the mistake but continues sending food with a note explaining the situation. From here onwards they start exchanging notes through the lunchbox and through their notes they identify the void in their lives and identify a solution to counter it. Whether they act on that solution forms the rest of the story.

The best part of the movie is that there are few dialogues which is concurrent with the theme of lack of communication; and how talking is the most basic and important ingredient in making marriage a success. We live in a world where by mobile or video conferencing we can reach out to any part of the world in seconds and yet we are growing further apart. The exchange of notes is probably a mockery of today’s generation: the few written words on plain paper are more profound and convey more feelings and pathos than the instant messaging and insta-gramming. The movie showcases three different people in their own versions of loneliness and what liberates them.

Ila is frustrated with her husband for the lack of affection and attention, and when Saajan replies to her message, the lunchbox becomes an escape from the her current life. She looses all hope in her marriage when she realizes that respect is missing from it. Ila in a way represents every middle class housewife who has craved for that attention from her husband and family and who has always remained unappreciated. Ila’s reaction to Saajan complaining about the excess of salt in the food underlines the theme perfectly- “he didn’t even say thanks”. Nimrat Kaur is the find of the movie and the movie belongs to her. Her body language as a stay-at-home mom going about her daily mind- numbing routine is flawless and her eyes betray the pain and the loneliness and the unloving, thankless rut she finds herself stuck in.

Saajan (Irrfan is brilliant as usual) is a widower on the verge of retirement and comes across as a recluse unwilling to train his replacement Shaikh (Nawazuddin Siddiqui). He is the kind of guy who would not give the ball back to the children playing if it bounced into his house. He has spent all his life behind the desk crunching numbers. His loneliness comes from his empty house and empty life- reinforced by the sight of a family dining together every night right across his house and the miserable lunches his tiffin- service provides him. Ila’s lunchbox with delectable food made with so much love and effort and subsequently their interactions via notes brings him a sort-of companionship and maybe a chance at happiness which he never could’ve hoped for.

I also liked the role of Ila’s mother (Lillete Dubey) who is taking care of her father suffering from cancer. Her admission of a loveless failed marriage acts as the final straw in Ila’s seeking out Saajan. Ila sees her future as her mom if she persists with the current scenario.

There is a scene at the end which is both brilliant and sad: Ila’s father is dead and Ila just enters and sees her mother sitting alone but quite not-sad. She is finally free (or rather, relieved) and wants to eat a parantha! This is one of the best scenes of the movie and it just jolts you upright.

If after watching this movie, you have decided to spend time with your family or hugged your mum tightly and said thanks, I think it drove home the point.

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