“The Lunchbox” is a romantic comedy set in Mumbai.
It brings together Saajan, a lonely, grieving widower and Ila, a housewife who attempts to cook her way back into her husband’s heart.
After her husband’s lunchbox is wrongly delivered to Saajan, the two develop an epistolary relationship that culminates into an unexpected ending that leave viewers wanting more, according to one critic.
The movie is built around Mumbai’s legendary dabbawala delivery service:
“Dabbawallahs are a 120-year old tradition, they are only in Bombay, they are very organic to the city of Bombay, and it’s an ancestral profession. They all come from the same village outside of Bombay, and the profession is passed from father to son. Every day, they deliver hundreds and thousands of lunchboxes from housewives at home to the husbands in their offices and they never get it wrong,” says the film’s director Ritesh Batra, who did a story about them a few years ago.
Throughout the movie, Ila hardly ever leaves her flat, especially the kitchen. Even when she communicates with her neighbour, she does so by yelling at the top of her voice from one flat to another.
The lunchbox mix-up is a unique chance for her to make contact with the outside world.
“Her world is so small, you know, the kitchen is her everything, it’s her office, it’s her industry, it’s everything, it’s her sense of belonging. So it’s a very simple life and existence, and that’s the journey that she makes. And eventually what she does is completely out of character, just realising that it’s (you have only) one life and you have to live it the way you want,” says Nimrat Kaur, who plays Ila.
To preserve some of the film’s mystery, the director avoided having the main protagonists meet. They only exchange through letters. Many of the scenes take place in the kitchen, while Ila is alone cooking food – as one critic said: don’t go and see this film if you are hungry.
“I drew a lot of inspiration out of all the letters that were there in the script, why he would write something and why I would write something, at what point in time. The beats of the story were extremely interesting. So being alone was not as challenging as it was exciting and satisfying, in a way, it’s a rare luxury, you don’t get that (often),” said Nimrat Kaur.
“The Lunchbox” is also about loneliness – it’s a local film with a global resonance, according to Ritesh Batra, who has spent most of his life in big cities:
“In big cities it’s possible to be lonely and in a crowd, absolutely. That’s one of the reasons why the film speaks to so many people. I often think of why that’s happening, I think that’s one of the universal qualities of the film, is that people identify with this theme of urban loneliness,” said the film’s director.
“The Lunchbox”, which premiered in Cannes, has taken the festival circuit by storm. Described by one critic as “a satisfying ode to food, love and Mumbai”, it has become a huge hit in India. It is out now in cinemas worldwide.