Without greasy food, what would couples talk about?
Lonely housewife Ila (Nimrat Kaur) does what she can to ensure that her marriage stays intact, so as a result, she decides to try adding some spice to it by preparing a special lunch for her neglectful husband, so he can get a nice little treat at work and hopefully, come home, be happy and appreciative of the slaving away his wife has done for his own needs. However, that doesn’t quite happen. In fact, the delivery goes astray and winds up in the hands of Saajan (Irrfan Khan), a relatively grumpy and annoyed widower. Curious about her husband’s lack of response, Ila adds a note to the next day’s lunchbox, and thus begins an unusual friendship in which Saajan and Ila can talk about their joys and sorrows without ever meeting in person. But the more and more they talk, the more the two lives’ unravel and, in a way, come together. For him, he starts to open up and come out of his shell a bit, whereas she begins to think of the next step after her marriage and begin to wonder just what the hell it is that her husband is up to.
Had the Lunchbox been made in the States, it would have most likely been a cheesy, sappy, and inorganic rom-com with fart-jokes and pop-culture references everywhere you look. Granted, that’s not to say every rom-com ever made in the States shares that kind of ingredients, but it’s hard not to sort of see where things would have gone with a premise as simple and relatively easy as this. But thankfully, the Lunchbox, as done by Ritesh Batra, isn’t just an organic, funny, sweet, and honest rom-com, but it’s a very good one.
And hell, I’m not even sure how much of it is actually considered “comedic”.
There is some humor, as well as some light moments. But mostly, the movie’s rather small, subtle, and dramatic, while moving at a slow, mannered-pace. But it all works; Batra has more on his mind here than just making the line between good food and love. He’s much smarter than that and instead, uses that as a spring-board to talk about aging, regret, death, love, loss, and most importantly, figuring out where to go when you think you’ve done it all. It’s a smart movie that knows what it wants to say, but doesn’t hit us over-the-head too much and Batra is to be commended for that.
He’s also to be commended for giving both of these characters more to them than just these notes that they pass to one another and, of course, food. See, Batra uses the lunchbox, as well as the notes the two pass to one another, as a way to sort of go in further to each of their lives and figure out what really makes them tick and why, above all else, they need to do this. Sure, it’s a silly conceit, but given these two characters’ lives and what we learn about them, it makes sense and it works for as long as it goes.
Once again, if it was made in the States, it probably wouldn’t have worked quite as beautifully.
Mostly, too, because Irfan Kahn and Nimrat Kaur wouldn’t have been in the leads. Both are terrific in their own respective roles and a certain amount of color and, well, sadness when needed. Kahn’s expressive eyes can give off any mood in any scene, whereas with Kaur, she’s just so beautiful, it’s hard not to take your eyes off of her. Nawazuddin Siddiqui also shows up in a supporting role as Saajan’s replacement who, at first, seems like he’s going to be annoying comedic sidekick, who shows up, acts silly and helps us laugh and get through some of the pain and sadness of the material. But nope, there’s actually more to him and the connection he builds with Saajan isn’t just nice, it’s beautiful.
Maybe the romance should have been between them?
Consensus: Cute and sweet, but without trying too hard to be either, the Lunchbox works as a rom-com that deals with a lot more than just two lonely people falling in love and much more about life itself.
8 / 10
Photos Courtesy of: Sony Pictures Classics