Film Review: The Lunchbox (2013)
The Lunchbox is the debut feature film of Indian filmmaker Ritesh Batra and what a lovely debut it is. The film follows the repercussions of a mix-up in the renowned “dabbawallas”, an intricate lunch delivery system in Mumbai, where personal lunches are couriered from homes/restaurants to workplaces and back again. A woman’s lunch to her husband goes astray and ends up as another man’s lunch – this little mishap sets in motion some unforeseen, life-altering consequences.
The Prickly Man and the Trapped Housewife
Saajan Fernandes, played by Irrfan Khan, is a prickly man, a man who hides his deep loneliness behind a veneer of grumpiness. He is about to retire. His wife is dead. He has no children, no near relations, no friends. He is alone and rejecting the world.
Ila, played by Nimrat Kaur, is a lonely housewife, full of love and hopes and dreams, which are perpetually ignored and rejected by her distant husband. All her attempts to reignite romance in the marriage are failing. He is seeking pleasures elsewhere and Ila is feeling increasingly trapped.
Food as Messenger and Instigator
So Ila cooks. She cooks wonderful dishes, pouring all her love and hopes into her concoctions, in hopes that her husband will feel her and reciprocate. He does not. But when her beautiful lunches start being delivered to the wrong man, to the grumpy Saajan, well, he feels her. Saajan recognizes immediately the care and love and attention that has gone into these meals. It moves him, this prickly old man who’s been rejecting life. He feels this anonymous cook and begins to feel again himself.
Quickly realizing that her husband’s lunches are going astray, Ila sends along a note explaining the mishap. Saajan reads it and responds. More lunches follow and more notes are exchanged. Moved by her food, Saajan opens up, revealing more of himself. Moved by his revelations and his reception of her food, Ila opens up, revealing more of herself.
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Sated by Ila’s food, Saajan begins to open himself to life, to new social relations, to new friendships, to new future plans. He begins to be generous and nice and forgiving. Empowered by Saajan’s recognition of her, Ila begins to see herself as more than a housewife. She begins to see in herself strength and autonomy, that she can make her own decisions, be her own woman, choose her own life.
Do these letter writers ever meet? Does Ila leave her loveless marriage? Does Saajan and Ila’s intimate friendship develop into love? Do they act upon this love?
Yeah, you’ll have to see this lovely film to find out.
A Lovely Film
The Lunchbox is indeed a lovely film. It won the Viewers’ Choice Award, the Grand Rail D’Or, during the International Critics’ Week at the Cannes Film Festival in 2013, and it is easy to see why. It is a crowd-pleasing piece, an epistolary romance with wide appeal.
I’m a sucker for food movies and this one really hits the spot. The acting is superb. The cinematography is splendid. I can’t recommend The Lunchbox highly enough.
Where to Watch: Netflix in Europe, DVD.
Content Note: Rated PG. There is nothing to come after here.
Have you seen The Lunchbox? Have you ever eaten a meal that touched you profoundly? Share your thoughts in the comments.
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