The Lunchbox – Review by Frank L.
Directed by Ritesh Batra
Stars: Irrfan Khan, Nimrat Kaur, Nawazuddin Siddiqui
In this oblique encounter between a young housewife, Ali, and a widower on the verge of retirement, Saajan, there is a figure who plays almost the classic role of the Fool, one Shaik. Enigmatically he says “Sometimes the wrong train will get you to the right station”. This little phrase is a sort of leit motif for the film as a failure in the superb Mumbai lunchbox delivery system has resulted in Ali’s lunchbox for her husband being delivered to Saajan. Gradually the daily shuttling of the lunchbox to and fro, accompanied by the billets doux between Ali and Saajaan, creates a place of hope for their concealed needs in their less than fulfilled lives.
There is a wealth of images to enjoy in this elegantly crafted film. The structure of the lunchbox is a series of cylindrical metallic compartments which fit together to form a shiny metal cylinder which is secured by a brace. Its very structure requires that it is opened, filled, emptied and assembled with dextrous hands. Its careful handling makes it an ideal receptacle to convey the billets doux.
The collection by a man on a bike of the lunchbox, its delivery to a palette where its green-canvas-carrying bag is its sole means of identification as it stands surrounded by a multitude of other colourfully bedecked lunchboxes and then individually delivered to the desk of the intended recipient creates a continuous stream of shapes and colours, truly kaleidoscopic. The swirl of the competing colours of the innumerable lunchboxes has an almost dizzying effect. It is indeed a miracle that it is only Ali’s lunchbox that is misdelivered.
Throughout, the acting of Nimrat Kaur as Ila and of Irrfan Khan as Sajaan is restrained but its very restraint underlines the importance to each of them of their hidden relationship. It contrasts with the high sense of expectation which the arrival of the lunchbox brings to the humdrum routine of their lives. The opening of the lunchbox and the swift searching of its various compartments for the longed for billet doux increases the sense of expectation. Their private world, contained within the lunchbox, stands juxtaposed to the outside world which is Mumbai with its noise and clatter and the bum-to-tum proximity by which its inhabitants ride its buses and trains. In this his first feature film, which he also wrote, Ritesh Batra has created a gem.