|Irfan Khan in The Lunch Box|
Debutant film maker, Ritesh Batra, has made a fantastic start, with his first. Pegging the film on two elements – the Bombay Dabbawalas, who have become an international case study at management schools, and the evergreen recipe called love, he has made a profoundly meaningful, touching film, with only one very well-known actor, that being Irfan Khan, as cast and other lesser known names like, Nimrat Kaur, Nawazuddin Siddiqui. A story so beautifully woven, with so much sensitivity, really did not need a super engaging cast, to carry the film to a box office hit.
Saajan (Irfan Khan), is about to retire in a month after 35 years of work life. He is a lonely widower, with nothing else except his job as crutch.
Ila (Nimrat Kaur) is a housewife with a daughter and a husband she suspects is having an affair outside their marriage.
Nawazuddin Siddiqui, is the young man all set to take over the job from Irfan, after he retires in a month or two. He is eager to learn from Irfan, but the latter is a reluctant teacher for his insecurity of a life of retirement, is only too close and looking him in the face.
At that moment, by a turn of fate, there is an interchange of dabbas (Lunchbox) and the one he receives is not the one, meant for him. But the food is home cooked, and ever since the death of his wife, Irfan has been eating from the canteen, which only provided, potatoes on a daily basis. Irfan takes the liberty to send a chit in the box complaining, complimenting, telling stories, inside the box. Ila, who receives these letters, is a bit baffled at the beginning, but begins to enjoy and anticipate the letters. Her drab life, with a cheating husband, which she tells Irfan about, finds a patient listener. The letters fill the emptiness of each of their lives. They plan to meet.
However, at the appointed time, at the restaurant decided before, Ila, is waiting anxiously, while Irfan, a much older man, comes to the restaurant but does not meet her. He sits and watches her, hesitating to move forward. Naturally Ila is unhappy at this let down, but receives a letter of explanation from Irfan the next day, in the dabba, of course. Along with her daughter, she visits his Office, only to find, he has retired and left. She herself decides to leave for Bhutan, leaving her husband behind.
What is the actual message of the film? At no point do the two protagonists, Ila and Irfan, ever meet and yet, the audience is left with this feeling that they will meet, sometime. Perhaps in Bhutan where they plan to go together, but each has gone his own way!
The whole movie is a brilliant depiction of our need as humans to communicate. The key message is - given any situation where two people are alone and have no one to talk to, they will create a bridge of communication, between them, even if they do not know, or have not seen or met each other. For Irfan, Ila filled the vacancy of this life, just by reading/listening to what he was writing; for Ila, Irfan was that person, she did not know, but could share her deepest fears or insecurities. Yet, when challenged to meet, personally came, Irfan prefers to maintain status quo. Indeed, he is aware that this bubble would burst if they were to meet personally, face to face.
At another level, even the aunty, living above Ila, whose voice the audience hears but whose face it never sees, is another example of communication between two humans living close to each other. There is exchange thoughts and queries, and there is a basket hanging on ropes which again becomes a loop to hang another form of communication, where, tid-bits shared between two kitchen, one on top and the other below, becomes a tool that gives a loud and clear message – There is a voice that binds the two and there is a connection too, between the two. Again, they are communicating, whatever be the objects shared between the two.
Brilliant as it were, the film talks about a very basic need – the need to be heard and the need to communicate in any form, because, as someone said, no man is an island. We are all part of the milieu, we call life. We are complete, only when there is the other, in whatever form it may choose to be there for us.
The film is clean of all other quick fix modern day communications that shake the hall with belly dancers, romantic run-around trees or making out at sea bed. Also, there are no Smartphones, Facebook, Twitter or gmail even.
Such a break from the mundane! Such a beautiful film!
Read also why The Lunchbox should have been the film for the Oscar nomination.