The Lunchbox (2013)
I don’t think I’ve watched a film in Hindi before. Not that it ever really matters what language a film is. A story is a story, good, bad, somewhere in between. This is good. Without reading the synopsis before hand, I’d imagine you could be confused as to what’s going on at the start of this. Apparently in India, the practice of having your lunch delivered to you at work, from home each day is the done thing. We open on hundreds, maybe thousands of lunchboxes in bags being delivered by carriers all over the city. One such delivery goes to Saajan from Ila. Except it wasn’t supposed to. Saajan is a pencil pusher, soon to retire. He’s quiet, lives alone, a bit of a loner and generally grumpy. Ila is much younger, married to Rajeev who doesn’t really seem all they interested in her. The lunchbox mix up keeps happening daily. This seems a little implausible, but then I’ve only just found out about this custom, so what do I know. At first Saajan thinks the service he pays for has simply improved, but Ila twigs right away when Rajeev makes no comment on the delicious lunch she’s made. She’s been trying to impress him you see, with the help of Auntie who lives upstairs. We never see Auntie, she’s a disembodied voice through the window, but she’s wonderful. Anyway, back to the lunchbox. Ila leaves a message explaining what happened, but Irrfan being Saajan doesn’t really respond how you’d imagine, no thank you, nothing, just that “today, it was salty”. Saajan doesn’t like deviation from his routine. This is comically compounded by Shaikh, who is to be his replacement at work. Shaikh is young, enthusiastic and a pain in Saajan’s side. His grumpiness may be explained by the loss of his wife and the lack of light in his life, but soon lunch becomes that light. A quick side bar, this food looks amazing! You can smell it on the screen, so don’t watch this on an empty stomach. Saajan is a man of few words, but the food brings him out of his shell and the notes between the two begin to grow longer and more personal. We learn of Auntie upstairs, not a relation, just a nice neighbour with an ill husband, more importantly we learn that Ila feels neglected. They’re both lonely, finding solace in their unusual friendship, with an honesty in their letters they can’t share elsewhere in their lives. Shaikh and Auntie are the comic relief. Auntie her friend, Shaikh fast becoming his, albeit with some reluctance. The four together, although distant from one another create a wonderful palate of personalities, in a story much richer than it appears. They seem to cross over. Saajan wakes up to the world around him, embraces what life has given him. Ila though seems to slip, her situation becoming more desperate with the illness of her father, her mothers spiralling costs of care and the suspicion that her husband may be cheating. This leads to Saajan daydreaming. Ila toys with the idea of leaving and Saajan suggests leaving with her. It’s a fleeting thought, but Saajan realises they’re only fantasies. He’s too old for Ila and feels the world has caught up with him somehow. It catches up with Ila’s father too and such is the connection we feel to these people it’s really impactful. There’s a desperation in Ila, a powerlessness, magnified by the gender divide. Faced with this desperation she takes matters into her own hands, seizing control of the male dominated world and chases her dream.