The Lunchbox (PG)
Moving between Mumbai’s middle class suburbs and its teeming city centre, this intelligent and charming drama/romance depicts the consequences of a wrongly delivered lunchbox for the young wife who prepares it and the office worker who receives it. Don’t see it on an empty stomach.
Ritesh Batra | India | 2013 | 104 minutes | PG
Our Film Society may have sold Indian cinema short in the last 20 years. We showed ‘Pather Panchali’, the first film of master-director Satyajit Ray’s celebrated trilogy, ‘The World of Apu’, but members found the pace and strangeness of Indian village life – and the Lecture Theatre seating – rather uncomfortable viewing. We generally steered clear of Bollywood, but greatly enjoyed ‘Monsoon Wedding’ in 2003 which, together with ‘Water,’ an Academy Award winner in 2005, showed that we were developing a taste for the sub-continent. ‘The Lunchbox’ fits our bill very nicely because it combines the perception and wry humour of Ray with a new director’s sharp modern eye for the details of city life in teeming Bombay.
Director Batra initially wanted to film Bombay’s lunchbox delivery system and even embedded himself in one of the teams involved to achieve authenticity. The system is remarkable, of course, considering that Bombay has a population of about 20 million and that some streets have two names while others have the same name. It ensures that lunches, prepared at home, are delivered to the desks of city workers. Using an elaborate coding system of numbers, letters and colours, the ‘dabbawallahs’, working in groups and travelling by train, bike, cart or on foot, undertake to deliver the lunchbox to the correct individual in his/her workplace. There are almost no errors – an amazed Harvard study found that about one in a million lunches went astray.
‘The Lunchbox’ is the story of one such misdirection. Infan Kham, who you may remember from ‘The Life of Pi’, plays a grouchy widower, nearing retirement from his office job. He discovers, one day, that his lunchbox has been accidentally swopped with a co-worker’s. Instead of alerting the delivery service, he tucks in and is transported to culinary heaven by the meal provided by an isolated housewife (Nimrat Kaur) who has prepared a special menu for her husband, in the hope that it might revive their faltering marriage.
There is nothing strikingly original about all this, but the story is told with charm and wit, and the central performances are excellent. The sense of place – bustling Bombay – with neighbours shouting recipes to lower storeys – is superbly realised, and the air of wistful melancholy expertly sustained. There’s much to relish here, with or without Brinjal pickle…
Weighted vote 91%