Director: Ritesh Batra
Starring: Irrfan Khan, Nimrat Kaur, Nawazuddin Siddiqui
In India, the lunchtime meal deliverers are acclaimed for their incredibly high delivery rate. Lunchboxes get sent to who they are supposed to and the accuracy is near perfect. Enter Ila (Nimrat Kaur) a housewife looking to introduce a bit of spice into her love life with a specially prepared lunchbox for her quiet and somewhat dismissive husband (Nakul Vaid). Hitting that one-in-a-million percentile, the meal instead goes to Saajan (Irrfan Khan); a grumpy and curt widower with retirement on the horizon. At first somewhat timidly, the two strike up a friendship of sorts by sending letters via the food canisters. As they become closer and help each other with their problems, will they find the courage to meet each other in person or will their friendship remain as it is until the fast approaching day of Saajan’s retirement.
Director Ritesh Batra’s debut feature, The Lunchbox is a drama that is characterized by lovely performances. Humanly crafted and realistically acted, the film hits great highs but never dips low at all. Perhaps the strongest thematic element in the film is that of loneliness. With India, and specifically Mumbai, being characterized as one of the most densely populated places on Earth, our characters face immense measures of loneliness. Set against the busyness and bustle of a city torn between tradition and the first tentative steps toward full modernization, these two find the freedom to express themselves truly; the prospect of a perfect stranger making it easy.
Irrfan Khan is absolutely stellar in this film; he’s got a regal, almost majestic air that he brings to this role that won’t surprise many fans, but will certainly convince those unfamiliar with his work. His transformation from curmudgeonly old man into the more personable and kinder man of his youth is engaging and expertly acted. Quickly becoming one of my favorite actors working today, his delivery and emotive acting is among the best in the business. Nimrat Kaur is solid as well, though acting opposite a legend like Khan is a tall order for anyone. She’s wildly sympathetic as the worried wife, loving mother, and dutiful daughter. In her role as a housewife, she’s got a very small world around her. This sphere grows with the gentle words of encouragement from Saajan, and her strength comes to the fore as a result. Perhaps most telling between these performances is the fact that they do not share a single scene with each other. The epistolary nature of their relationship stays at the fore and the fact that they are able to so winningly react to simple words as opposed to a physical performance is amazing.
The film is also populated with numerous great supporting cast members; Nawazuddin Siddiqui as Saajan’s trainee, Lillete Dubey as Ila’s mother, and Bharati Achrekar in a voice-only role as Ila’s upstairs neighbor. There’s a real richness to these characters that truly shows growth for the main characters; an absolute necessity since they’re apart for the duration of the film. The music is excellent with a wonderful score from Max Richter who brings a winnign combination of traditional Indian music and words with some more Western influenced melodies and tones. It’s well composed and immaculately placed for perfect effect.
It’s a magical thing, the power of food and words. A meal can transport you to days long past, warm the heart and stomach, and bring you energy and life. The right words can provide encouragement, give strength, and remind us of the need to live. While the cynic in me knows such things are rare, it’s nice to be in a world where such a sentiment exists at all. A crowd-pleaser of the highest order and one of the best films I’ve seen this year so far, The Lunchbox is supremely entertaining, lovable, and delicious. See it and hunger for more!