Movie Review: THE LUNCHBOX (2013)
Most Bollywood love stories, in the traditional sense, display a sort of moral righteousness that either becomes the premise of the story, or the obstacle driving it. Few romance films in Bollywood deal with the moral ambiguity that certain situations may bring. ‘The Lunchbox’ tells a sweet and soft story about such a love story, that can be called anything but in the traditional sense.
Blank Page Rating: 5 Out of 5 Dowry Scooters
This gem of a movie features a somber and introverted widower approaching retirement, who mistakenly gets the wrong lunchbox through the established food delivery system that runs throughout the country in India. While the wife that lovingly made the food anxiously awaits her husband’s feedback, the widower gobbles up the food, thinking it a change from his usual catering service menu. Upon realizing that the wrong man ate her lunch, when the lunchbox was returned to her through the same delivery system, the wife writes a note thanking the man the next day. What starts is a regular exchange of notes, sharing their lives, their thoughts and opinions, their hardships, which blossoms into a mutual respect and admiration for each other that transcends any concept of ‘love’ that Indian movies typically feature.
Although to call ‘The Lunchbox’ a Bollywood movie is doing it a disservice. The film is mostly in English, and isn’t really made for Indian audiences. The film does a wonderful job of setting up its characters, their relationships and the inherent conflicts within them, without any exposition, or dramatically emotional scenes. Irfan Khan plays the widower who otherwise keeps to himself, as showcased by his dislike for neighborhood kids playing near his house, and the constant harassment by his younger replacement, played by Nawazuddin Siddiqui, who wants to learn from him before he retires. Over time, his friendship with the young housewife softens him and opens him up to the joys of the world, but the transformation subtle and endearing.
The story of the housewife is even sadder, while being completely realistic and grounded. Nimrat Kaur reflects, what has to be a story relatable to many others, of being a wife that is taken care of, but not loved. While the husband isn’t demonized, (not outright anyways) he simply doesn’t see his wife as a priority in his life, with a disregard for family life. As evident by his response to the suggestion of having another child, where he refused by pointing out the cost of living ‘these days’. Recently, I mentioned how Bollywood love stories have matured by showing that at times ‘love’ isn’t enough for a relationship. While here, in the case of an arranged marriage, the movie tries to show that us that the simple concepts of mutual respect, affection and admiration can save a marriage, and go a long way in nurturing a relationship.
Irfan Khan shines in a role that is as subdued as the film itself, with a performance held back but invoking much awareness and self-reflection. Most of the interaction between the two characters is done through voice-overs of their notes to each other, and both Khan & Kaur convey such emotional depth in a simple voiceover that it’s staggering to the senses. Kaur is radiant as the hardworking housewife, having a crisis of self, despite knowing her duty as a wife and her character’s anxious suffocation is brilliantly conveyed on screen. ‘The Lunchbox’ is a very subtle movie; a story of unrequited love, of lives unfulfilled and dreams not chased. It’s told with as much restraint as the actors in playing their roles and the writing for leaving a lot to the audience’s own imaginational and intelligence.