The Lunchbox

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Release: Friday, February 28, 2014 (limited)

[Theater]

You know you have an indie film on your hands when you’re sitting there, reading a plot synopsis about the misplacement of a lunchbox.

Indeed, this oft-underappreciated everyday object becomes the focus of attention in a truly unique and grounded-in-reality drama involving two lost souls seeking companionship in a chaotic and often disillusioning world.

The busy port city of Mumbai, India is simultaneously the most populated city in the country and the fifth most populous city in the world, and, being considered India’s financial, commercial and entertainment hot spot, is also home to several of India’s major film and television studios. A sprawling network of high rise buildings that jut out proudly above the low-lying canopy of ramshackle communities, the bulging mecca that is Mumbai swells with potential for wealth, power, success.

In a society that places emphasis on hard work and dutiful attention to church and family, everything has structure and everything seems predetermined, calculated. This is chiefly the reason why The Lunchbox appeals — its determination to break from structure and willingness to abandon societally accepted norms. That may sound like a cliché, but with any luck, a little explanation is about to go a long way.

Saajan Fernandes (Irrfan Khan) is facing retirement and has only recently lost his wife. He now exists in a drearily repetitious cycle that he has allowed himself to succumb to. Elsewhere, the young Ila (Nimrat Kaur) is married but unsatisfied with the present state of the relationship, so she’s attempting something new: cooking meals that she knows will please her husband. She is surprised when her first attempt at spicing things up is met with total silence from the hubby. That’s because in a rare mix-up involving Mumbai’s famed ‘dabbawalas’ — the people responsible for transferring home-cooked meals from the home to a person’s place of employment and back again at the end of the day — her lunchbox is taken to someone else.

Instead of going to her increasingly detached husband, the delicious meal she prepared is ingested by a very pleasantly surprised Saajan. The seemingly minor error turns out to be the spark of a friendship between two people who would otherwise be total strangers. Over the course of presumably several weeks (possibly months) Saajan and Ila exchange a number of notes that become increasingly interesting, even intimate. She shares her concerns about her husband’s emotional distance while Saajan fills Ila in on his worrying about retirement and the mourning of his late wife.

This is first-time direction from Ritesh Batra and yet The Lunchbox plays out with the conviction of a seasoned filmmaker. Batra’s choice to keep the main cast limited to just two wounded souls helps focus the project immensely. Somehow, the handwritten notes the two share through the lunchbox also helps to slow down the pace of life in metropolitan India just a little. Almost every development that occurs along the way is something elemental, something basic that we can believe actually might occur given the circumstances. There’s hardly a scene in which the drama feels forced or invented for perhaps no purpose other than to awaken audience members who were falling asleep in their seats, the ones who were expecting more action to take place. Maybe expecting the lunchbox to explode, or start talking or something even more bizarre.

Indeed, there’s none of that. There’s a lack of a cartoonish superhero design on this lunchbox, which makes some sense considering the film prefers to have feet planted firmly in reality. None of this is to suggest this film is uneventful or free of drama, though. In fact the narrative is wrought with tension at times and comparatively more light-hearted and upbeat during others. The Lunchbox is a film that prefers to highlight the imperfection of humanity rather than over-simplifying or overdramatizing it.

That’s a tricky tightrope to walk, in case anyone was wondering.

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4-0Recommendation: A pleasant, reality-based drama centering on an atypical relationship that develops in a most atypical way, The Lunchbox has broad appeal. Possessing subtitles and originating from India does little to hinder the film’s extreme ease of accessibility. The performances are a delight and its subject matter, though not wholly original, is given the benefit of the doubt given the unique cultural material that is used to progress the story. I don’t know about any of you, but I want my lunches delivered to me while I’m at work! And I’m not talking Panda Express, either.

Rated: PG

Running Time: 104 mins.

Quoted: “Dear Ila, things are never as bad as they seem.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

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26 thoughts on “The Lunchbox

  1. Dude! This and The Grand Budapest Hotel will open tomorrow here! I’ll be busy on Friday and Saturday, but I think a Sunday at the cinema is in order!

    • Oh boy! Busy weekend for you then!!! 😀 I don’t even know which to recommend over which, both are superb. I think I may have been more pleasantly surprised by the Lunchbox. Anderson is always being Anderson, which isn’t to call him predictable, but he is a reliable director, let’s say that. 🙂 Hope you enjoy what you watch man

  2. Fantastic review. Am yet to watch this movie. Indian Art films are some of the best in world. Bollywood commercial ventures too have some good movies, but rarely.
    Have you seen Indian English language (Bengali) Art films like Aparna Sen’s ’36 Chowranghee Lane’ and ‘The Japanese Wife’. Or Satyajit Ray’s Bengali films like ‘Nayak’ and ‘Days and Nights in the Forest’. They are brilliant.

    • Thanks very much for your comments! To be completely honest, I don’t frequent Bollywood all too much personally. But I do like checking out some on the odd occasion. I haven’t seen any of the titles you have mentioned, unfortunately but I’ll definitely keep an eye out. I’ll also take note of your recommendations of their quality. 🙂

      Once again, thanks for stopping by

      • Thanks buddy, but I haven’t mentioned a single Bollywood movie here.
        Bollywood movies are commercial film made in the Hindhi language (India’s national language) made in Mumbai (earlier known as Bombay, hence the name Bollywood, culminating the words ‘Bombay’ and ‘Hollywood’) . There are many other movies made in various different languages (including English) in various other states. The state of Bengal is famous for it’s Art Cinema, similar to European Art house films, made in Bengali and English (i.e. some of the films I’ve mentioned are from Bengal). They are the best Indian movies.
        Bollywood rarely makes Art films, like The Lunchbox, but those tend to be excellent.
        Cheers
        NS

    • And wow right back man, I don’t know how I overlooked your comment here haha. This film is a little different than the typical Hollywood grind man, I’ll tell ya that. If you’re feeling something off the beaten path and a romance that impressively parallels reality, this is a good one to seek out.

  3. I haven’t heard much about this film until now. The Tomatometer is at 96% making it one of the best reviewed releases of 2014. Now with your review it’s became a must-see film.

    P.S. You posted your Oculus review on April 23rd. I was going to comment but now I can’t find it on your site. What happened?

    • I actually knew little about it other than maybe the one trailer I had seen. I think the same day I saw Ernest & Celestine’s trailer, I saw the one for this and basically was hooked immediately. 🙂 And then I saw how well it did on RT. Makes sense. This is a little gem!

      Oculus I accidentally published when the review wasn’t quite finished! Haha. So I suppose you just got a sneak-peak! 😉

      • Amazing The Lunchbox was still playing in my area on May 28th. I remembered your perfect review and decided to finally catch this.

        While I appreciated this film’s simple charm and wonderful set up, the conclusion (or lack of one) really left me unsatisfied. Don’t get me wrong, I would still recommend it. There’s a lot to love, particularly the sensitive relationship that evolves among the principals. It’s just that the desultory ending is a serious letdown after such a promising buildup. The finish left me hungry for more.

      • I think I was similarly frustrated with the way this film finished, but overall the experience was a wholly authentic one and I just loved becoming immersed in this culture.

        I’ve just seen yours pop up now. Heading on over there.

    • I sincerely hope you can get to it at some point, it will likely have a very select number of theaters showing it but hey if it makes an appearance, this one’s a great one! Lots of fun and very easy to digest. Big, big fan of these types of movies!

      • Keeping my eyes peeled in that case (I doubt it will show here, useless cinemas we have and all, but still), if not in theatre, will wait for release!

      • 😀 😀 😀 😀

        Is there an indie/arthouse theater of some description nearby? That’s how I was able to catch it.

    • Indeed it is man, The Lunchbox is thoroughly enjoyable, even if it could be a hard one to get a hold of. Worth the search, though. In this guy’s opinion, anyway. 😉

  4. That is the second perfect score that I’ve seen from you in a matter of a week! Dude, dude, how is your personal life going? Meet a sexy new lady? Get a bombass job? I mean…you must just be really happy! Or these films may just be incredibly good? Of course you also gave a 2/8 this week but that can be blamed on jealously over who Depp is dating…

    Anyways…like that other film that you gave a perfect score too….I must seek this one out as well. It has actually scored high on every single review site that I’ve seen! I have seen negative reviews on IMDb about it being boring but every single film in the universe receives complaints. Some even hate and try to steer folks away from Jurassic Park or Pulp Fiction!

    By the way, those folks who hate the above mentioned films…I neither value nor respect their stupid opinion. So perhaps it will be the same with this one!

    • That’s because I got laid last week.

      Hahahaha. No. No, I did not. Actually, that’s private information anyway, and you, good sir, HAVE NO BUSINESS ROOTING AROUND IN IT!!!!!!

      I am starting to realize my pie scale’s limitations. In the case of a few films, this being the most recent example, I feel as though the difference between a 7/8 and a perfect score is growing larger and larger. Some things are just so narratively excellent I have no choice but to give it a great score, while others are just simply incredibly enjoyable that they’ll work their way up the scale that way. I felt as though I wouldn’t be doing The Lunchbox justice giving it a score lower, even if 7/8. . .if you make it a percentage, is what — a 88%? That’s still prettty good, but this film was above that for sure.

      Maybe one day i’ll break from the format I have now and introduce the elusive 16-slice shortbread pie~ hahah

      • 16-SLICE SHORTBREAD PIE, OH BOYYYY! I like my body how it is though! Reading your reviews will be fattening if you go with that decision! However, I do get your point! Sometimes the perfect number is challenging to reach with ratings systems!

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