We always remember a meal that satiates not just the tummy but the heart. A simple fare could leave us gloriously happy, an elaborate, fancy one could leave us unsatisfied. It is all about one meal that fills in an emptiness inside. Check the Bollywood menu - The Lunchbox is that meal. It feels exactly like Roald Dahl describing Charlie Bucket taking a bite into a Wonka bar.
Ila (Nimrat Kaur) is a housewife who decides to find her way back into her husband’s heart through his stomach. She diligently puts together his dabba, with vocal instructions from the aunty upstairs (Bharati Achrekar).
The dabba however doesn’t reach him, it lands up on the desk of Saajan Fernandes (Irrfan Khan). The dabba returns empty and when Ila realises that someone else had her food, she writes a little note of thank you explaining that the lunch was meant for her husband. Fernandes responds. The dabbas don’t stop and an episode of exchanging life stories begin.
Ila’s husband has no time for her, her life revolves around sending her daughter to school, cooking endless meals, worrying about her mother (Lillete Dubey) and her cancer-ridden father. Fernandes is a widower, he is not the best neighbour to have - he never returns the balls that go into his balcony by mistake; his life is all about claim forms. He is also reluctant to take colleague Aslam (Siddiqui) under his wing.
She writes to him in Hindi, he responds in English. The notes are rarely conversational, they are confessional and in an intangible beautiful way, they become a part of each other’s lives. One of the most brilliant scenes is when Ila talks about going to Bhutan and Fernandes writes back asking if he could go there with her. The Lunchbox has some marvelous moments.
The movie is all about little indulgences that one allows oneself when something good starts to happen. It is like a good home-cooked meal that every soul craves for when loneliness seeps into life. Ila and Fernandes are lonely and the lunchbox and the notes give them a cashmere blanket of solace.
Remarkable work by Ritesh Batra; keep your ears pricked and notice how the sounds of Mumbai flow between the scenes. Batra romanticises Mumbai through the ever efficient dabbawalahs and unlike a Wake Up Sid and Life in a Metro.
It was a dire wish to see Khan and Siddiqui on screen together and it is brilliant. Siddiqui matches his good-natured stupidity with Khan’s restraint. Kaur keeps up with the strong actors. Though she hardly shares screen space with them, she is a treat to watch.
Dubey grabs you by the collar in the scene she talks about her husband and his death. The movie is so perfect that it hurts to not give it a perfect score. But perhaps I can be a little stingy and hold back the last star - I wanted to physically see a happy ending, not leave with hope.