Movie Review: The Lunchbox

September 20, 2013

(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters)

Even if Ritesh Batra’s “The Lunchbox” had been a film with a weak script, wayward direction and too long to hold your attention, there would be still be a reason to watch the film — Irrfan Khan.

Here is an actor who will mesmerize and transfix you while playing the most unassuming of characters.

Saajan Fernandes (Khan) is one of the millions of government employees crouched over a desk and surrounded by dusty files and other equally inconspicuous people.

Yet, Khan manages to tell us much more about this seemingly colourless man with an evocative performance.

And fortunately for him, the script is not weak and Batra has a firm hand as a director, steering the film towards its conclusion without getting too distracted. He builds a lovely tale around a bored housewife who lovingly packs a tiffin box for her husband every day, and is disappointed when he doesn’t seem to notice.

When the tiffin reaches Fernandes, an insurance company employee, by mistake, it leads to an unusual friendship. She writes him a note to say thank you, he writes back, and thus begins a series of letters tucked away inside a chapati (flatbread).

Ila (Nimrat Kaur) is a pensive housewife whose face lights up when she is having loud conversations through her kitchen window with the old lady upstairs about food and life, and when she reads Fernandes’ letters. To play off a character when they aren’t in front of you is tough, but both Khan and Kaur manage to do that skilfully.

The other character in this film is Shaikh (Nawazuddin Siddiqui), a somewhat irritating man who Fernandes gradually warms up to. To watch both Khan and Siddiqui on screen is one of the reasons this film is not to be missed, but the hidden hero is Bharati Achrekar.

As Deshpande aunty, the loud, Maharashtrian neighbour who dispenses cooking and life advice to Ila downstairs, she is never seen but brings the character alive through her voice.

“The Lunchbox” is a quintessentially Mumbai film. The dabbawalas, the loneliness, the local trains — it is all a background to the film.

Yet, this film never comes across as a love story. Both Fernandes and Ila are lonely souls who reach out to each other and seek anchor, but whether they are in love or are simply seeking solace is a question that is never answered satisfactorily.

Ila warms up to Fernandes far too quickly to be believable, talking about her husband’s aloofness and her father’s illness to a complete stranger.

Nitpicking aside, “The Lunchbox” is a thoroughly charming film, brought alive by some great writing. For Irrfan Khan and the story of his lunch, this one is definitely worth watching.

(Follow Shilpa on Twitter @shilpajay)

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