The Lunchbox: A banquet for two lonely people (with video)

Published: March 20, 2014


The Lunchbox
Rating: 3½ stars out of 5
Starring: Irrfan Khan, Nimrat Kaur Directed by: Ritesh Batra
Running time: 104 minutes (In English and Hindi with English subtitles)

he Lunchbox-Bollywood

Irrfan Khan as Saajan. Photo by Michael Simmonds, inThe Lunchbox. Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

“Sometimes, the wrong train will get you to the right station,” someone says in The Lunchbox, a love letter — to lonely people, to the power of food, to India itself — that gives a whole new meaning to the phrase “let’s do lunch.”

Ila (the lovely Nimrat Kaur) is a lonely and neglected wife trying to win her husband back with her cooking: you can almost smell the fragrances that rise from a pot as she adds more spices to the sauce. She is making his lunch, which is packed into four stainless-steel containers, clipped together with an ingenious collar, and packed into a bag to be delivered to his office.

The delivery system is a charming testament to Indian manpower and an indictment of its chaos. Lunchboxes by the thousands are taken by bicycle, train and delivery man to thousands of desks, and Ila has made a particularly pungent meal to win back her distant mate.

“One bite of that and he’ll build you a Taj Mahal,” yells her upstairs neighbour — known only as Auntie — who shouts advice through an open window. Ila replies that the Taj Mahal is a mausoleum.

Although the lunchbox service brags that even Harvard University has studied its methods — indeed, the King of England himself was impressed — the box is delivered to the wrong man. It winds up on the desk of Saajan Fernandes (Irrfan Khan), a glum widower who works in unsmiling isolation, preparing claims for an insurance company. Nevertheless, he loves the meal.

Ila discovers the mix-up and eventually she and Saajan begin a correspondence, placing notes in the meals that go to his desk and the empty containers, some of them practically licked clean, that are sent back to her.

Saajan is about to retire — the formally polite Shaikh (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) flits about his desk, trying to learn insurance lore — but he is being brought back to life by these meals, and by this connection. And Ila, who smells the odours of duplicity as she washes her husband’s shirts, begins to see a new life as well.

It’s a slight film, but director Ritesh Batra, making his first feature, encompasses the film’s gentle performances into the chaos of Mumbai, a place so crowded that, as Saajan notes, people are buried standing up.

The teeming humanity has left two lost souls behind, and we watch them — cool and untouched in the heat of the air and the spices — yearning toward one another. What they do about it is the movie’s last, tantalizing dish.

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