The Lunchbox review: when souls meet (for a meal)

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The Lunchbox green light Nimrat Kaur

A charming, bittersweet, utterly chaste love affair forged over food and cemented by kindred spirits.
I’m “biast” (pro): nothing

I’m “biast” (con): nothing

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

If it wasn’t real, you could never invent it for a movie, because no one would believe it. But the dabbawallahs — the lunch box delivery men — of Mumbai are real, and every day they ensure that hundreds of thousands of office workers get hot meals straight from home handed to them right at their desks. The thousands upon thousands of tiffin boxes, metal bowls that stack together and snap into a cylinder, travel many miles on huge pallets, even getting their own train cars for their trip. As a system, it’s pretty bonkers and kind of wonderful. And apparently the dabbawallahs hardly ever make a mistake. This is the (fictional) story of one of those rare mistakes, a charming, bittersweet, utterly chaste love affair forged over food and cemented by kindred spirits. Ila’s (Nimrat Kaur) husband is indifferent to her food and to her, but she accidentally finds an appreciative audience in Saajan (Irrfan Khan: Life of Pi), who somehow ends up with the lunch intended for her husband; it’s when the tiffin box comes back empty, again and again, all the yummies inside eaten, that Ila realizes someone else has been scarfing down her lovingly prepared meals. So she sticks a little note in with the next lunch… and Saajan, intrigued by the woman whose food he has been eating, replies. He’s a crotchety old man — he gets miffed when some young guy offers “uncle” a seat on a crowded train — about to retire; she is suffering from the malady that has afflicted housewives since forever: she’s bored and annoyed that her hard work taking care of her husband goes unnoticed; he hasn’t even realized that he’s not getting her lunch! And now the small illicit thrill of their secret friendship is something to look forward to each day. Writer-director Ritesh Batra has blended the glory of food porn — you can almost smell what Ila is cooking; you can almost taste Saajan’s anticipation as he opens the lunchbox each day to discover something delicious — and the old-fashioned romance of farflung correspondents sharing their hopes and dreams in letters to each other (even if, in this case, they’re physically separated only by a commute). How long can this unusual relationship endure, and to what end? This is a lovely, lovely film, one that will leave you, both literally and figuratively, hungry for more.

viewed during the 57th BFI London Film Festival

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Fri, Feb 28, 2014 10:05pm

I just saw this with my wife at the Angelika a couple of hours ago! Wholeheartedly agree: this is a lovely film. Khan and Naur are wonderful actors, and you can read so much in the subtlety and restraint of their faces and gestures. And yes, we WERE hungry for Indian food afterward, but unfortunately we could only find a Mexican taqueria…

Fri, Feb 28, 2014 10:51pm

i have been fascinated by the dabbawallahs since i saw a documentary on how they work… i think this movie looks wonderful. even if i don’t like indian food.

Matt Clayton
Matt Clayton
Sat, Mar 01, 2014 4:35am

I’m curious… are there similar food shots in this movie like “Babette’s Feast” and “Eat Drink Man Woman”? Those movies made their food look so appetizing, you could almost smell it.

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  Matt Clayton
Sat, Mar 01, 2014 10:26am

Maybe not as many, but yes, there is a food porn quality about this. :->

Sat, Mar 01, 2014 7:11pm

Interesting — saw the trailer a while back and it didn’t seem to have much fire. I’ll keep an eye out.

Tue, May 13, 2014 10:05pm

Oh, yes, very good indeed! There’s a major narrative weak point, but even I with a fairly low tolerance for such things didn’t think it spoiled the rest of the film. Thanks for the recommendation.

Mon, Jul 21, 2014 1:45am

Just watched this with my wife at a popup cinema outside an Indian restaurant (the Cinnamon Kitchen, Liverpool street station, London), with actual lunchboxes served during the film. Marvellous!

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  lescarr
Mon, Jul 21, 2014 11:15am

What a great idea!