THE LUNCHBOX

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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MUMBAI PUNE MUMBAI

…is my favourite new Indian romantic movie.

As there’s nothing new in Indian romances, nothing Indian about newer romances, and nothing romantic in newer Indian movies, that’s saying something.

A Mumbai girl is in Pune to meet a prospective groom who she has neither spoken with nor seen. He isn’t home, and she can’t access his cell number on her discharged mobile phone. She decides to stick around till evening.

All this happens in the first fifteen minutes. Initially by need and then by choice, she spends the rest of the day with the guy who gave her directions.

Talking.

About meeting, love, dating, past loves, marriage, soul mates and breaking up. And food, poetry, values, tradition, family, quarrelling, independence, modernism and moving out besides. And so much more.

They differ about everything.

He is a medical representative wearing bermudas, baby fat and a bumpkin smile; she is a fashion designer in a skirt, sunglasses and a sudden temper. The city of Pune is the only other character; Saras Bagh, Sinhagad Fort and Pune Station are its myriad moods.

Pune’s too conservative; Mumbai’s too progressive. Chitale Bandhu and Tulshi Bagh are unbeatable; not by bhel puri and the Arabian Sea. Pune lacks in something; Mumbai has nothing to call its own in the first place. They argue – heatedly.

Gradually, their argument becomes a discussion, then a conversation with mutual respect. Their relationship mirrors it – originally hostile, then tentatively understanding, and finally, old friends.

Two strangers spend hours exploring Pune; at the end of the movie, we don’t even know their names. But so endearing are they and so engrossing their conversation, it just doesn’t matter.

This is the first time I’ve wanted to be in the actors’ place. This is the first time I’ve heard them mouth my thoughts. And this is the only romance which made me think.

The characters rise above how they are enacted. Multiple cameras capture both, their expressions and whereabouts. Crisp editing intersperses crucial shots of their reactions to each other. There is a cracker of a climax that is predictable five minutes before it unfolds; this draws you in rather than puts you off.

But what you will remember this movie for is its dialogue. He often addresses her as ‘Rao’ and justifies himself as ‘Made in Pune’; she often slips into Hindi and speaks in functional Mumbai-chi Marathi.

Swapnil Joshi could’ve underplayed his role; Mukta Barve should’ve rationed her pretty smile. The song ‘Kadhi Tu’ is melodious but completely unnecessary. One hopes director Satish Rajwade will rectify these flaws in the sequel.

For if any film demands and deserves a sequel, it is this. I can’t wait to see what happened next.

You who are not fluent in Marathi, never mind if you don’t understand a few lines – “Kaaran te samzaaychyaat nastaat; samzaayche astaat tya bhaavana”. And you who have already watched it – emulate me.

I started watching the film at four in the evening. By eight, I’d already watched it twice.

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