The tale of two very different people who live two very different lives in modern Mumbai. Ila (Nimrat Kaur) is an unhappy housewife whose main job each day is to prepare her husband’s lunch and make sure it is given to the local dabbawallah to deliver to his work.
Meanwhile widower Saajan Fernandes (Irrfan Khan) is seeing out his days at a mundane office job while those around him are preparing for his impending retirement. The fact that he suddenly accidentally starts receiving Ila’s food sparks a new romance for him, while training his replacement Shaikh (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) gives him new life in the office.
A quick thought of Indian cinema often conjures up blatant rip offs of Hollywood blockbuster and of course the all-singing and all-dancing dazzle of Bollywood. For some reason the more serious kinds of cinema, which surprisingly is a category that The Lunchbox fits into, seem to go missing and never find their ways into cinemas around the world. Luckily though someone has seen fit to give The Lunchbox a go at box office success outside of its native India.
Surprisingly this is director/screenwriter Ritesh Batra’s first feature film. Unlike so many first time directors he doesn’t fall into the trap of trying to recreate the styles or storylines that have made films popular in the past. Batra really brings his own style to The Lunchbox. He doesn’t make the mistake of deciding that this should be a laugh-out-loud romantic comedy like most Hollywood directors would have made this film.
It is however that style of filmmaking that will either make audience members love this film or loathe it. Some will see The Lunchbox as a good move away from the Hollywood style of romance. Batra concentrates on this being a slow moving character piece. He doesn’t need to show a confronting scene to show that Ila is an emotionally abusive relationship, it’s a slow burn trip through a number of days in a row to show just how dull her life is. Likewise Batra doesn’t need to inject outrageous Adam Sandler like comedy into the film to get a laugh, no he can just allow some natural laughs to come from the seemingly odd-couple friendship that develops between Saajan and Shaikh. And just to throw absolute caution into the wind Batra even steers away from the conventional romantic ending that the romance genre has led its audience to expect, no here the audience will have to do some thinking of their own to work out what exactly happened.
Of course having said that though there is a flipside to that coin. At times The Lunchbox is a little sickly sweet and a little too slow moving. This is not the kind of film that your regular popcorn cinema set audience member is quickly going to warm to. Not all film fans will enjoy the slow journey that Batra takes them on while others will savour the fact that Barta captures the essence of living in modern Mumbai, and it’s tasty cuisine, and puts it up on the big screen for all to see.
The Lunchbox is made even better by the brilliant acting performance of Irrfan Khan. Khan’s acting career has had a real resurgence over the past few years. From becoming the first Indian actor to star in two Oscar winning films – with Slumdog Millionaire and Life Of Pi – to appearing in big Hollywood blockbusters like The Amazing Spider-Man and the forthcoming Jurassic World Khan has shown that he is an actor of substance who can cope with any role thrown at him. Here Khan hammers that point home with a dramatic yet quite performance that has the audience completely falling in love with character and hoping that he can again find romance in his life.
Khan is well supported by Nawazuddin Siddiqui who manages to mix comedic timing with some serious acting as he plays the slightly odd Shaikh while Nimrat Kaur simply breezes through her role as she plays the likable Ila.
The Lunchbox certainly is a slow burn but it is well worth the effort to sit through it. Technically it is a much better romance to a film like The Notebook. Yes the fact it is from the sub-continent will worry some cinema goers away from the film but if you loved films like The Exotic Marigold Hotel then this is one film that you will savour. Certainly this is one film that does manage to bring a country’s cuisine to the screen and that is something that the French film industry is going to loathe The Lunchbox for.
Director: Ritesh Batra
Starring: Irrfan Khan, Nimrat Kaur, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Lillette Dubey
Running Time: 101 minutes
Release Date: 11th April 2014