Verdict: A slight but endearing little flick that plays out with restraint and delicacy.
Mr Fernandez (Irrfan Khan) is a curmudgeonly Mumbai widower on the brink of retirement as a bookkeeper. When he is mistakenly delivered a lunchbox from a neglected housewife, Ila (Nimrat Kaur), he responds with a note. They continue to correspond via the lunchbox delivery system, and a relationship develops that confronts them with their realities and fantasies, and the necessity to determine which is which.
Every working day in Mumbai, India, dabbawala (lunchbox couriers) pick up, deliver and return many thousands of multi-dish hot lunches dutifully prepared at home by housewives for their menfolk working in city offices. The famed lunch delivery system is remarkable for its efficiency. Mistakes are hardly ever made.
On-going delivery error, however, is the conceit around which the narrative is built in The Lunchbox. Easy enough to accept in terms of logic – no system is infallible. And on one hand, the device works well as a signifier of romantic stars in alignment, of fate intervening to brighten the lives of two unhappy people. On the other, however, the conceit itself wears a bit thin. Written communication modes are better suited to characters in literature than film.
That said, Irrfan Khan and Nimrat Kaur do a fine job with their roles, negotiating the gradual blossoming of their chance encounter into a plausible relationship-by-correspondence in which they open up to each other, initially tentatively. As trust and intimacy builds, they begin sharing their hopes and dreams, which seem to be entwined.
There’s a lightness of touch here, some poignant moments and serious undercurrents notwithstanding, that promises a feel-good ending. However, happy endings do not have to turn out as predictably as we’ve been conditioned to expect by Hollywood, and three cheers for that. As Mr Fernandez’ workmate Shaikh (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) prophetically observes, “the wrong train can take you to the right station.” Enough said.
This is a slight but endearing little flick that plays out with restraint and delicacy. It runs out of puff before the end – there’s a sense that screenwriter/director writer Ritesh Batra didn’t know how to finish his otherwise quite well conceived and constructed tale. It’s an irresistibly charming piece, nevertheless, saved by the lead characters and the actors who play them, and affording a glimpse into the lives of ordinary people in the ever-fascinating phenomenon that is India.
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