This is a tiny movie that reminds everyone that love is often found as a result of happy accidents.
As I left the theater, I turned to a young woman at the counter who occasionally sells tickets and said, “I sense that everyone will embrace The Lunchbox.” A big movie fan herself, she responded, “They all say it is charming.” She was dead right.
Written and directed by Ritesh Batra, The Lunchbox is a captivating film contained in a very small package. It tells the age-old story of how many human beings can take the wrong train and end up at an unintended destination waiting for them with open arms.
The film centers on Ila (Nimrat Kaur), a young mother who is trying to reconnect with an obviously disinterested husband. She spends time making a special lunch for him that she sends through Mumbai’s busy lunchbox bicycle delivery system, only to have it inadvertently delivered to a stranger. Near retirement and existing in a lost world following the death of his wife, our stranger suddenly has meaning enter his life by means of a mysterious lunch ending up on his desk.
The very talented Irrfan Khan stands out as Saajan Fernandes, an aging man who has become gradually disconnected from friends and associates. When you recall that Mr. Khan made powerful contributions as the adult Pi Patel in Life of Pi (2012) and the police officer that memorably helped the young boy in Slumdog Millionaire (2008), you have some idea of the delightful experience waiting for you if you hunt down this film.
Ila and Saajan never meet, and their entire relationship is contained in notes that they send to each other through their connecting lunchbox. Uneasy at first, she loves his handwriting as much as he loves her cooking.
There are a number of very funny moments in this film, the first involving Ila’s relationship with an aunt who lives above her in their apartment building. You never see the older woman, but only listen to their conversation through an open window. While the aunt is tending to an invalid husband, their relationship is an utterly joyful experience from the beginning.
As for Saajan, you watch him rediscover some of life’s pleasures through an unanticipated friendship with a young employee who will be replacing him on his retirement. Initially irritated by Shaikh’s (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) honesty and sincerity, an understanding gradually develops that permeates Saajan’s lost world.
One of the many things that I found so wonderful about The Lunchbox was the rediscovery of the value of conversing with someone by way of a handwritten letter. That is an art that is almost lost in a world dominated by phone texting and emails, and it is worth remembering its value.
The Lunchbox is in both English and sub-titles, so don’t be scared away. Maybe everyone should think about catching a train and trusting the unknown destination.