Saturday, September 21, 2013


Release date:
September 20, 2013
Ritesh Batra


Irrfan Khan, Nimrat Kaur, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Bharati Achrekar
Hindi with a bit of English

The Lunchbox is a mellow film that could get even a staid, sobre cine-phile into a riotously celebratory mood. The sort of mood that makes me want to jump out of a hoarding above a busy street aping the star of the other film release this week and yell out: Phata Poster Nikhla Hero, Toh Khulla Lunchbox Nikhla Rishtaa and other un-sobre things. When people aren’t assuming that film critics have a “fun…easy job”, they ask: Why do you opt for a job which involves watching lousy films week after week? Answer: For weeks like this, when you catch a gem the mass audience is not scurrying to see, and you want to stand on a rooftop and shout out to them that they should give this one a shot because there can be such beauty in simplicity.

We’ve seen food films. We’ve seen romances. This one’s a fromance. Saajan Fernandes (Irrfan Khan) is a diligent, unsocial widower who quietly goes through his busy workdays at an insurance company followed by evenings in solitude at home. On the eve of his retirement, he is tasked with training his successor, Shaikh (Nawazuddin Siddiqui), who is an irritating young man. At another end of bustling Mumbai lives Ila, a young housewife and mother like millions of others in this world, pouring love and passion and planning into cooking meals for her indifferent husband. The only break in her boring, monotonous routine comes in the form of conversations through her kitchen window with the spirited Aunty upstairs (Bharati Achrekar). Then one day, Mumbai’s famously efficient dabbawaalas slip up: the lunchbox she sent to her husband’s office accidentally lands on Saajan’s desk. Circumstances lead to an exchange of notes between them over a period of time, and through those missives they become fast friends sharing their innermost secrets with each other – her unhappiness, his plans, his memories of his wife, her fears about her marriage, they all come pouring out to a faceless stranger.

Most of this you would have figured out from the trailer. What you couldn’t possibly guess is what comes afterwards or how layered this very basic story turns out to be in the hands of director Ritesh Batra. If you’ve lived in Mumbai (I’ve not) or travelled there repeatedly on work (I have) then The Lunchbox will offer you added nuances that may escape a rank outsider to this fascinating, exasperating city. What each person wears, the accents in which they speak, the localities where they live, what they eat and those surreptitiously written letters all tell us so much about life in this metropolis but also any metropolis, about social divides in Mumbai, loneliness in marriage, contentment in seclusion, the human spirit, hope and hopelessness.

The casting is brilliant, the performances even more so. I spent most of The Lunchbox wanting to reach out and hug Irrfan, Nimrat and Nawaz, because their character had either done something so wonderfully loveable or human, or simply because I wanted to comfort them and tell them that all would be well. That’s how much this film draws you in. Irrfan is superb as an old man who may not even have known he was lonely until he discovers renewed interest in life via that lunchbox. A glance, a slight twitch of the lips, a hesitant hand is all it takes for this great artiste to convey an ocean-full of emotions. It calls for the skill of the always-excellent Nawazuddin to draw attention even while Irrfan is in such form or for that matter to make the irksome Shaikh likeable…but as the film rolls on, he manages both. That the two of them are fabulous performers is something we all already know, but it requires a film maker with vision to have seen his Ila in newcomer Nimrat. Should the credit for discovering her go to Ritesh or casting director Seher Latif? I don’t know. So here’s a salaam to both for presenting to us this tremendously talented woman most of India recognizes only from her Cadbury ad so far.  

Those who love cooking will understand what a sensual and equally meditational experience it can be. Director of Photography Michael Simmonds seems to know that well, taking Ila’s kitchen to a different realm altogether with those close-ups of her hands rolling koftas, gently slipping them into boiling oil, then dunking them in a gravy so delicious-looking that I hope the producers of this film release Ila’s Recipe Book as part of the post-release promotions. Complementing Simmonds’ work are Michael Kaczmarek and his sound design team, who turn that kitchen into a haven of pops and fizzes, of hot liquids bubbling on a stove and the crackling ingredients in a pan while the city goes about its business outside.

Everything about The Lunchbox is delectably low-key: the conversations, the presentation style, the acting. Yet within each deceptively calm person is a churning that we all can identify with. Through the film, I was aching and smiling for all three principal characters and even for that ever-positive upar-waali Aunty. The only scene which seemed contrived was the one involving Ila’s mother, not just because the brief chat they had at that point popped up just too conveniently there to add another dimension to the narrative on relationships, but also because Lillette Dubey in the role didn’t fit the overall picture. While looking back at the film though, that’s a barely noticeable fumble. 

The Lunchbox is seemingly simple yet as complex as all human beings are. It’s sad yet throws up humour when you are least expecting it. It’s not larger than life, it’s just as large as life always is. This film is truly sensational.

Rating (out of five): ****1/2

CBFC Rating (India):
Running time:
1 hours 49 minutes (courtesy
Photograph courtesy: UTV Motion Pictures


  1. What you have not noticed is The story of Ila's mother (frustrated of her husband's illness) is in complete contrast to that of her Aunty (Bharati Achrekar) who loves her husband inspite of her vegeta tatie state and who motivates Ila throughout! Eventually it is the state of your mind due to relationships which determines your attitudes to life

  2. The Lunch Box is delectably slow paced with endearingly real characters.. A more distinctive ending would have worked as icing on the cake! :)

    1. Dear Mallika,

      Interesting that you feel this way, because I particularly liked the fact that the ending was left open to interpretation. Wish I could say more, but I don't want to spoil the film for those who've not yet seen it :)



  3. Hi ! We've interacted on Twitter,but this is my forst visit to your blog. Couldn't agree with you more. I so loved the movie, and as you say, wished I could reach out and give all three a hug ! The fact that it's a story of two lonely people who connect and and eventually become friends by sharing their anxities and aspirations seems to be lost on some people. Why isn't there more romance/sex etc were some of the sillier responses I heard. Well, those would have made for a very different movie. Anyway, reading your review helped me assure myself I'm not some pre historic dinosaur.Thanks ! And more power to your words ! Cheers !