A few months ago, I went to a screening of The Lunchbox for Washington Square News. It should be available on DVD relatively soon. If you're interested in seeing it, read my review below!
The Lunchbox, directed by Ritesh Batra and starring Irrgan Khan (Life of Pi, Slumdog Millionaire) and Nimrat Kaur. The premise of the film is about a lonely, underappreciated wife, Ila, who realizes the lunchbox she packs for her ungrateful husband every day is going to another man, Saajan, who lost his wife years earlier. Slowly, they begin exchanging notes each day through the lunchbox. By sharing their lives, worries, fears and dreams with each other, they connect without knowing truly whom they are communicating with. Meanwhile Ila’s husband is receiving Saajan’s lunch from a restaurant, and has no idea there is any difference (all the more proving his ignorance).
While the main romantic element of note exchanging between Ila and Saajan is sweet, it is the other relationships interweaved in the film that propel the story forward. Saajan and Shaikh, his somewhat exasperating follower who is set to take over Saajan’s job when he retires in a few months, slowly become friends as Saajan’s heart is warmed by Ila’s cooking and words. Simultaneously, in the apartment above Ila’s is a hysterical old woman called “Auntie”, who very willingly doles out advice and the occasional spice through a hanging basket. All we ever hear is Auntie’s voice, yet her character is very compelling through her yells down to Ila. Auntie and Shaikh’s comedic arrival is undoubtedly welcome after some sluggish-moving scenes between Ila and Saajan.
The film was certainly suspenseful, with the audience unsure of where the story was heading. Will Ila’s husband finally realize that he’s not eating his wife’s food anymore? Will Saajan arrange a meeting between the two of them? Will Ila leave her husband for Saajan? Will Ila’s daughter find out about her parents’ troubles? What will become of Auntie and Shaikh?
The lunchbox system in India is extremely impressive, though the premise of the film is about a singular, fateful hiccup in the organization. Perhaps this mistake adds to the romantic element of the film. They were so meant to interact that the perfectly orchestrated lunchbox system, praised by countries all over the world, could not compete. Although I’m not sure I completely agree with the course (no pun intended) the film took after the initial excitement of the first few notes through the lunchboxes, I certainly think that the character development of Ila and Saajan was well-done. The film is so focused on their relationship, that the audience can sometimes forget what else is happening in the world outside of them. Romantic? Perhaps. But this also puts a great pressure on the two main characters, and I’m not sure the writing completely keeps us riveted.
After seeing this film, if you do not want a full-course, homemade Indian meal, then your mind must have been elsewhere, perhaps on your own fluctuating relationship. Each scene seemed to contain more delicious Indian food than the last. The Lunchbox, while romantic in an old-fashioned sort of way and rib-tickling in between, certainly had my mouth watering.