Greetings again from the darkness. What a terrific first feature film from writer/director Ritesh Batra. Don’t mistake this for the typical Bollywood release in the U.S. There are no song and dance numbers here. Instead it’s a very intimate portrait of how two people awaken to their own situations by connecting with each other through notes in a lunchbox.
“Lunchbox” takes on a life of it’s own when referring to the dabbawallahs – the infamous lunch delivery men in Mumbai. The opening credits provide us a ride-along with the key lunchbox as it takes multiple forms of transportation prior to arriving at its destination. Only this time, a rare mistake occurs. The lunchbox from Ila lands on the busy desk of Saajan, rather than her husband. See, Ila is trying to re-capture the attention of her distracted husband. Instead, she finds a soul mate in Saajan via note exchange and tasty dishes.
While Ila is a desperate and frustrated housewife, Saajan is a melancholy widower who is headed to retirement in hopes that it helps him forget all that he now tries to cover up through his cigarette habit and retreat from society. The real magic here stems from the slow process of self-realization that occurs for the two characters. There is humor and emotion aplenty, yet both performances of Irrfan Khan (Saajan) and Nimrat Kaur (Ila, and her extremely expressive eyes) are remarkably understated and believable and touching. We immediately care for both.
Nawazuddin Siddiqui offers support as the very interesting and entertaining Shaikh … a character that could easily support his own film. We also see Lillete Dubey as Ila’s mother. Ms. Dubey also appeared in the terrific Monsoon Wedding (2001). Equally impressive is the city view of Mumbai. The overcrowded streets, trains and buses leave us understanding how difficult daily life is for these folks.
Not since Lost in Translation has a platonic relationship been so effectively told on screen. This story and these characters remind us just how important human connection is … letting someone share your dreams is a rewarding step.
watch the trailer: