The Lunchbox is a romantic film, set in India, written and directed by Ritesh Batra, and produced by Guneet Monga, Anurag Kashyap, and Arun Rangachari. The film was jointly produced by several studios that include DAR motion pictures, UTV Motion Pictures, Dharma Productions, Sikhya Entertainment, NFDC (India), ROH Films (Germany), ASAP Films (France), and the Cine Mosaic (United States).
Saajan and Ila (brilliantly played by Irrfan Khan and Nimrat Kaur) are both prisoners in their unfair, boring, routine lives. Saajan’s wife has passed away; he is lonely and is stuck in a boring, laborious accountant job, with little prospects. Ila is young and is stuck in a loveless marriage. Thanks to her neighbor aunty, Ila tries to spice up her marriage; both literally and figuratively, adding spice to her husband’s favorite foods and beautifying her looks to make herself more attractive to her husband.
Ila and Saajan’s paths would never cross, but for a rare mixup by Mumbai’s Dabbawala. Dabbawalas are part of a lunch delivery system in Mumbai, India, where they collect hundreds of thousands of dabbas (lunchboxes) with hot food prepared at homes or in restaurants, and deliver them to the employees at the workplace, precisely at lunch times. As famously studied by Harvard Business School, Mumbai’s Dabbawalas are famous for their ontime delivery, every time, and they do not mix up. But one rare mix up creates this conundrum where Ila’s spiced up food reaches Saajan and Saajan’s humdrum boring dabba from the restaurant gets delivered to Ila’s husband.
As Saajan gets a taste for spice and Ila gets compliments and gets hooked on Saajan’s little notes, and as the mix up continues, the old adage “ignorance is bliss” no more serves either Ila or Saajan. They both now yearn for more spice and desire to break free from their prison cells of loneliness and despair. How will it end for Saajan and Ila? Well, that is hardly the point. There are rarely neat little, perfectly pictured, resolutions to many of life’s conundrums. On the other hand, sometimes a door opens, or you may come to a point where you face two paths and need to choose one. One may not walk out the open door; Ila may or may not walk out of her marriage, into Saajan’s arms; or Saajan may not choose the path of getting involved with a younger woman in distress. And yet, it is the opening of the door or knowing that you are making a choice of a path, that makes all the difference. As Saajan later repeats the brilliant piece of advice he heard from his young and perky colleague at work (Nawazuddin Siddiqui), “sometimes the wrong train can take you to the right station”. While to do nothing, to remain stagnant, is a certain death, sometimes it is simply the process of conscious movement that may create opportunities. And both Saajan and Ila are getting restless; to do nothing, is not an option for them anymore.
The film was screened at International Critics’ Week at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival, and later won the Critics Week Viewers Choice Award also known as Grand Rail d’Or. It was shown at the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival. This is a beautiful film; heart warming, realistic and tender. I rate it a 4.5 on a 1-5 scale, with 5 being excellent.