Most films are reviewed shortly after they’re seen. I watched The Lunchbox a week ago. Four mind-numbing exams later, I still feel compelled to write about it.
A woman inventively cooks her husband’s lunch. In a serendipitous error, Mumbai’s dabbawallahs deliver it to the wrong person. He polishes it off. She catches on, and encloses a note in the next day’s dabba. He writes back. She writes back. And so on.
Why do two strangers confide in each other? What is the nature of their relationship? Do they ever meet?
I failed to recognise Irrfan Khan in his first scene. The camera slides past a row of desks and helpfully stops at one. I knew he would appear then. But so credibly (and incredibly) does he inhabit his character that you feel you’re watching just another government employee at work, who for some reason has been captured on tape.
In Honeymoon Travels Pvt. Ltd., Boman Irani was spot-on as the affably eccentric Christian widower. In The Lunchbox, Irrfan Khan portrays the diametrically opposite Saajan Fernandes – a widower and a Christian, but grouchy, gloomy and taciturn. With Maqbool, The Namesake, Paan Singh Tomar and this film, he has earned his seat in the pantheon of acting gods.
Nimrat Kaur smoulders in her performance as neglected housewife Ila, who wants to believe that there is more to life than her humdrum existence. The angst in her face as she struggles to revive her middle-class marriage is heart-wrenching. I could scarcely believe that this is the same woman who sits in her car and licks chocolate in the Silk ad.
And who knew Nawazuddin Siddiqui can make you laugh? Cast against type as a chatty and ingratiating novice, his Shaikh is the perfect foil to the shortly-retiring Fernandes. He is the graph against which you plot the latter’s metamorphosis. He’s scintillating.
The average viewer’s twin desires to relate to a character as well as forget his own life for a while, are usually contradictory. Addressing the themes of urban loneliness and the delightful anonymity of correspondence, this movie fulfils both. Scenes such as Ila’s loud conversations with the unseen Aunty living upstairs and Shaikh chopping vegetables on office files in the train are unforgettable.
Rare is the film that straddles independent and commercial cinema. With producers as disparate as Anurag Kashyap and Karan Johar, it is evident that The Lunchbox started as a small film that went on to tug both heartstrings and purse-strings, getting it the wider release it deserves. Not since Aamir Khan made Dhobi Ghat have I felt grateful to a producer, of all people.
I urge you to watch The Lunchbox. In a theatre, or whenever it’s released on DVD. I have no moral authority to reproach anyone for streaming movies online, but you must realise that this film must make money. Then, and only then, will more such films be made. And maybe someday, art will be accepted as entertainment, and the art will come back into entertainment.
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