Listen to the review above, by David H. Anthony
A film by Ritesh Batra
Mumbai, formerly known as Bombay is a bustling urban metropolis, yet one whose past casts shadows on its present. This is the setting for The Lunchbox or Dabba, a 2013 film by Ritesh Batra. The Lunchbox pivots around a mistaken delivery of a lunchbox ordered through a food service to a senior accountant, Saajan Fernandes, who is approaching an imminent retirement. The food has been prepared by Ila, a housewife, for her spouse, Rajeev. The error provides the impetus for a curious culinary connection between Fernandes and Ila, the whimsical plot around which
The Lunchbox revolves.
Fernandes, played by Irrfan Khan (memorable as the overbearing game show host in Slumdog Millionaire and “The Father” in Wes Anderson’s The Darjeeling Limited, a star of over 100 Indian features) is at first glance a taciturn middle level civil servant who works hard and has done so for 35 years. Ila, the youthful partner of a distant, upwardly mobile executive spends most days in conversation with her aunt, keeping house and serving as primary parent for her daughter. Gradually the daily delivery of the lunchbox draws these two people together, after a fashion, through meals then notes furtively exchanged in the aluminum containers wherein the food is Ila, portrayed by Nimrat Kaur, is a woman of uncommon beauty whose dedication and prowess are taken for granted by her largely unavailable, often absent husband.
In her banter with her worldly wise auntie, heard yet unseen, we learn many salient details of her life. Likewise, the saga of Fernandes unfolds revealing him to be much more than he seems. For different reasons, the two, Ila and Fernandes forge a bond, built upon the centrality of cuisine via notes uncovering the intimacy their lives lack.
The Lunchbox is captivating in the vivid images it shares of Mumbai as a window into modern India. We see the worlds of work, teeming crowds making their way in the hustle and bustle of city streets, by rail, bus, trolley, taxi, pedicab and foot. In The Lunchbox, director -writer Ritesh Batra has produced a tender, bittersweet tale of warmth and pain, spiced like the cookery that launches it, to address class, gender, culture, modernity and the eternal universal pursuit of happiness. The cast features Nawazuddin Siddiqui as the annoyingly charming Shaikh, the would-be apprentice to Fernandes, and Lillete Dubey as Ila’s mother, who was Mrs. Kapoor, mother of the proprietor in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and Pimmi Verma in Monsoon Wedding.
Most of these actors are familiar faces in Bollywood films. That genre is represented in subtle, nuanced ways. One caveat, my screener had tiny subtitles that sometimes appeared as white on white, rendering them indecipherable, unfortunate because dialogue is key to the story. Hopefully this will not occur on the big screen. Even so, The Lunchbox is magical. I highly recommend it. It made me want to brave Mumbai.