The Lunchbox is a story of a bunch of lonely people in one of the most crowded cities in the World, Mumbai. Saajan Fernandes is a widowed Government official who works on the same table for last 35 years. Ila is a middle aged housewife who is trying to please her aloof husband by her delicious recipes so as to break the spell of loneliness in her married life. Deshpande aunty, who lives upstairs, is companion of Ila in these delicious attempts. Deshpande aunty lives with her bedridden comatose husband. Aslam Shaikh is a new trainee who is about to replace Fernandes after the later one retires. Aslam is an orphan and has come up to this stature by himself alone. The whole film revolves around Saajan and Ila accompanied by Aslam, Deshpande aunty and of course the Lunchbox. The Lunchbox (Dabba) is the central character in the film. In Mumbai there is one interesting service of Dabbawalas which deliver the Lunchbox from home to the office and back. Recently a study was conducted by Harvard University which praised the system and concluded that only one in a million lunchboxes goes off the mark. The film starts with this one particular error.
Saajan Fernandes is a solitary widower with a standoffish behaviour. He is working in the same Government office for 35 years but still he eats his lunch alone because he is that one person in office who hates to mingle with others and always chaperoned by his gloomy loneliness. He is that grumpy fellow in society who runs off children playing on the streets. Simply in a word he is ‘asocial’.
Ila is a beautiful middle aged housewife with exceptional culinary skills. She is worried about her cold married life. Ila’s husband is not interested in her. Ila is trying to win the heart of her husband by using delicious food. She relies upon the magic mantra – ‘The way to a man’s heart goes through his stomach’. Her guide in these culinary experiments is Deshpande aunty, who also happens to be her prime source for emotional support.
One fine day Ila prepares and packs food in Lunchbox which lands up on the desk of Saajan instead of her husband. Totally cleaned up lunchbox comes back to Ila’s home. Saajan is unaware of this wrong delivery of lunchbox but Ila realizes it. Confused Ila approaches Deshpande aunty, who in turn advises Ila to write down a note and put it into Lunchbox. Like this starts an unusual conversation between two persons unknown to each other. Initially Saajan’s responses to Ila are very brief, because he is not comfortable to share thoughts with anybody. But later on as this unusual relationship between two flourishes he pours out his heart through thoughts in letters. Saajan’s behavior changes unknowingly with the exchange of letters between two and a companion to share feelings in the form of Aslam.
As Saajan is retiring, Aslam Shaikh, a replacement for Saajan comes to learn about daily chores and proceedings in claims department. Aslam shaikh is a chirpy and joyous guy, but this is just an external appearance. Because of life as an orphan boy, deep in his past and mind Aslam is a lonesome guy. He tries to overcome this by interacting with people, learning new things and doing even household chores like chopping down vegetables. Aslam finds an elder family member in Saajan, tries to convince him to teach, share some small joys in life (like taking a dinner with his fiancé) and even he invites him as a sole family member in marriage.
Mrs. Deshpande or Ila’s Deshpande aunty is the only character in film which is not seen but only heard. She lives upstairs with her husband who is ill and in a vegetative state. Though she is living with her husband, actually she is a lonely woman. But never have we got a hint of sorrow or depression in her voice. She is hopeful and never regrets about her husband’s condition.
Many of us may feel that movie has some unwanted pauses, silences and it has become too much slow paced. But these purposefully sown gaps give viewers a chance to relate with the emotions and get involved with the movie at a better level. Film does not have regular back ground music with synced cues at regular intervals. BGM is so much scattered that eventually we end up listening to some real life sounds; like that of traffic, train, spices being fried in oil and regular hustle-bustle of a lively city. This move to avoid regular style BGM even adds a layer to realistic face of The Lunchbox.
Batra never tries to bombard us with poetic dialogues or some philosophical bullshit. He manages to convey the free-flowing thoughts through simple dialogues. In one of the letter to Ila, Saajan conveys the importance of sharing thoughts or memories – “I think we forget things if we have no one to tell them to.” In another one instance Batra takes a dig at the present condition of country (which is too much relevant in the latest events ;)) “There is no value for talent in this country.”
There is one guy who paints daily same picture by the side of the road. Somebody may see monotony in them and ignore them quickly, but eventually Saajan finds himself in one of the frames or he thinks so. He finds out that there is very minute difference in each one of them and he buys that picture frame. This is the best moment from the film. One another such marvellous scene is when Saajan describing about being in the bathroom and smell of his grandfather. I cannot picture anybody other than Irffan Khan who could have delivered such a brilliant performance with such fine shades of desolation.
Nawazuddin Siddiqui as Aslam Shaikh is bonus of this film. He brings that smile on your face with dead dialogues like “Hello. Good Morning Sir! Kaise Hai aap? Training kab shuru kare?” Nimrat Kaur’s debut as Ila in this film should be appreciated. She slips into role of Ila very convincingly. Bharti Acharekar gives life to the character Deshpande aunty with exuberant voice only. Last but not least Mr. Ritesh Batra, chief chef of The Lunchbox; he avoids regular food fetish images and keeps the subplots brief enough to concentrate on the main story. He manages to picture different shades of solitude, depression and sadness but ensures that he gives a ray of hope in the end. Afterall we are not alone this world and only person who feels lonely, for every saajan there is one ila in this world. Only we need to find them to share our feelings and not to succumb to that loneliness. Open end of the film is not a regular characteristic of Bollywood movie. This not so concluding end has pissed off many fellow viewers but honestly I liked it.
Leave aside the awards, box-office collection and controversies – The Lunchbox is surely a game changer for Bollywood. The Lunchbox is not a perfect movie, but execution of its script is so real and hard hitting that you will never forget this healthy and delicious debut venture of Mr. Ritesh Batra. Thanks Ritesh!