Monday, August 3, 2015

The Lunchbox (2013)

Director: Ritesh Batra
Writers:  Ritesh Batra, Vasan Bala
Cast:       Irrfan Khan, Nimrat Kaur, Nawazuddin Siddiqui
Language: Hindi

A mistaken delivery in Mumbai's famously efficient lunchbox delivery system contacts a young housewife to an older man in the dusk of his life as they build a fantasy world together through notes in the lunch box. She is in a loveless marriage, which is a very common phenomena in India due to societal compulsions, and he works in a government company and is close to retirement. Their exchange of notes rejuvenates both of them from their drab middle class life. Their relationship develops into romance, predictably, and ends in an unresolved note leaving us to speculate on whether they will get together or not. 

It is basically a very predictable feel-good film which takes an interesting idea and runs with it. 'Will they, won't they?' aspect goes along in a very conventional fashion, with him deciding not to meet her personally in the first instance and then regretting it later, by the time she decides to leave the place as well. The predictability of it doesn't matter though since there is a whole world building attached to each of the characters and it is something that many of us could easily relate to. There is this 'Govt Babu' aura to the world around Irrfan Khan's character and it seems his personal traits have also been influenced by it. Nawazuddin Siddiqui plays the role of his pestering understudy, who gradually wins over him so that he could be taken under the wings of much senior officer. We are not sure whether it is a normal retirement or whether he has taken a voluntary retirement from the job but I suspect it is the latter. Nimrat Kaur's homemaker character has a young kid and she is trying to please her husband through her cooking as a way to arrest her flailing marriage life. She has a mentor like neighbor aunty, from the flat above her apartment, with whom she communicates through shouting as well as exchanging things through a basket tied to a rope. We never see the neighbor in person. All the characters exhibit subtle traits and mannerisms which makes it a fantastic watch on the whole despite its predictable nature. I was reminded of Wong Kar Wai's 'In the Mood for Love' in some places and it is mostly to do with them discussing their personal lives, albeit with notes rather than in person.

Anurag Kashyap was involved as one of the producers of the film along with several other studios, many of them being foreign. It was screened at Cannes, where it won Critics Week's viewers choice award also known as Grand Rail d'Or. It also got a nomination at the BAFTA awards in the Non-English language category. It was widely expected to be India's entry for Academy's  Awards in the Foreign Film category, but the Gujarati film 'The Good Road' was selected ahead of it, creating considerable bemusement. I haven't seen that film to comment specifically on its quality, but Oscars is not really about quality and 'The Lunchbox' had a much bigger potential to do well there due to its crossover qualities. Anyway, Paolo Sorrentino's 'The Great Beauty', a favorite of mine, won it that year beating the likes of 'The Broken Circle Breakdown' and 'The Hunt'. So, there wasn't much chance of 'The Lunchbox' winning it and it did quite well anyway financially, grossing around $13 million on a budget of under $2 million.     

Overall it is a great watch and at under 100 minutes running time and the way it is filmed, it looks more like a foreign independent film rather than something from India. Struggling middle class is something that is touched rarely by Bollywood and mainstream Indian films in general. Performances from all concerned are excellent and you expect that anyway from the likes of Irrfan Khan and Nawazuddin Siddiqui. Nimrat Kaur, a theater artist, landed the job through auditions and she does a great job in a role where she portrays a normal Indian woman. Ritesh Batra made his directorial debut with this film. A third of its box office collection was from US alone and I suspect it was not the usual NRI crowd alone that were watching.

Rating: 4/5