“The Lunchbox” is a humorous, romantic Indian film with likable protagonists, played by Irrfan Khan and Nimrat Kaur. The film is directed by Ritesh Batra and revolves around the story of lonely, unhappy housewife, Ila (Kaur) and grieving widower, Sajeen Fernandes (Khan) who is frustrated with his dull office job.
Ila’s marriage is suffering, so she decides to try and get to her husband’s heart by preparing him a scrumptious lunch to be sent to him at work. The lunches are picked up by the Dabbawalas, delivery men who collect freshly prepared food from residences and deliver it to the respective workplaces of office workers. With this narrative introduction, the film gives the audience an up-close and personal, insightful look into the cluttered, fast-paced world of Mumbai.
When Ila’s husband’s lunchbox is not returned to her home and instead she receives the lunchbox of Sajeen, she realizes there has been a mistake. The Dabbawala delivered her labor and hope-filled lunchbox to the wrong man. So, Ila includes a letter in her next lunchbox, inquiring about the man who sends back empty containers, showing to her that he clearly enjoys the delicious food he receives.
The remainder of the film is told through an epistolary narrative, with the letters progressing to include more personal, intimate details about each other. Eventually, love and desire blossoms between the two, and their spirits are lifted through their daily letter interactions. They see a new beginning in their relationship and both struggle with how to proceed with it.
The first half of the film is brimming with laugh-out-loud, lighthearted humor and the excitement of a secret, letter-writing romance. The second half of the film, while still rooted in classic Bollywood humor and themes of growing love, takes on a deeper meaning. It provides a study of the human nature, desire and moral compasses. It’s a film that has you smiling throughout, while embedding its characters’ plights and emotions deep into your heart.
The film is a play on several senses and perhaps that’s why it stays with you after it ends. It’s emotionally effective, narratively captivating and undeniably delicious.
The hustle-bustle of busy Mumbai is heard via the engines of motorcars, beeping horns and buzzing of the conversations in the streets and offices. One can almost feel the yearning between Ila and Sajeen, who are looking for something missing in their lives. This is especially apparent through their caring, lovely letters to each other. And even the sense of taste and smell is present in the film. Though it’s only through a screen, the food of Mumbai is put on scrumptious display. It is a bit of a tease, though, since the audience is so distant from getting their hands on the meals Ila cooks for Sajeen. However, through the descriptive dialogue of various recipes and ingredients, and the lingering, close-up shots of the food, one can almost, just almost, taste and smell the delectable lunchbox Sajeen receives every lunch break.
The film doesn’t stray from classic Bollywood conventions, like the presence of a romance between a man and a woman, and the use of performance art, which here, is certainly the art of cooking. However, the film is more daring. With bold subjects of a failing, uncertain marriage, the presence of emotional infidelity and the excitement and intrigue of a secret romance, these new additions play on the audience’s emotions and morals. You root for them, but you are also unsure of their ultimate romantic and emotional outcomes.
Watch the trailer for “The Lunchbox” below: