Friday, September 11, 2015

The Lunchbox Review

I'm usually not a big fan of romantic films. I do like international films from time to time and films involving food is usually grab my attention. I don't recall where I heard about The Lunchbox (2013), but it's a charming movie set in India, though food isn't such a prominent feature as it was in other movies like The Hundred-Foot Journey. The Lunchbox was still a pleasant, light film even when it sticks to commonly used independent film tropes.
Lonely housewife Ila (Nimrat Kaur) decides to try adding some spice to her stale marriage by preparing a special lunch for her neglectful husband.  Through a rare mix-up of the famous "dabbawalas" of Mumbai (a complicated system that picks up and delivers lunches from restaurants or homes to people at work), the lunchbox Ila prepares for her husband ends up in the hands of Saajan (Irrfan Khan), an irritable widower on the verge of retirement who is frustrated with training his work replacement, Shaikh (Nawazuddin Siddiqui). 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.
The dabbawala was something new to me. A dabbawala is a person in India, commonly in Mumbai, who is part of a delivery system that collects hot food in lunch boxes from restaurants or the residence of workers in the late morning, delivers the lunches to the workplace, predominantly using bicycles and the railway trains, and returns the empty boxes to the worker's residence that afternoon. I'm not clear why a lunchbox wouldn't be brought with the workers to their place of employment, but this creates a lot of jobs, so who am I to criticize? Harvard Bussiness School added a case study to their compendium for the dabbawalas' high level of service (equivalent of Six Sigma or better) with a low-cost and simple operating system. It's simply fascinating
When the movie started, I instantly recognized Irrfan Kahn. He's best known for his works predominantly in Hindi Cinema. He's been in a number of American films where I recognized him, such as Life of Pi, Slumdog Millionaire, Jurassic World, and The Amazing Spider-Man. He's very good in this film, and plays a character easy to relate to. Nimrat Kaur is a beautiful woman and displays some above average acting here. Nawazuddin Siddiqui's delivery seems a little stiff at times but he really sells his character's positivity and happiness.
The Lunchbox seems to be a romantic drama sort of story. It's got all the elements of a romance, but even though Ila and Saajan communicate through notes and form an emotional connection with each other, there's not really a romance that forms between them. Frankly, I'm okay with this. Saajan is at an age where he can retire while Ila is still a young mother. I feel that given the age gap between them would make any romantic interests awkward. It's less a love story as it is an evocative portrayal of loneliness.  Saajan and Ila are content to share their thoughts about life and their day with one another and that is sufficient for these characters.
Unfortunately, this epistolary exchange of pleasantries and philosophical musings lends itself to independent film tropes. Independent films often have long dialogues about life, what it is, it's fleeting nature, and how it's full of surprises. That is certainly present here, but it's actually well written and well incorporated and doesn't try to act like it's deeper than it actually is. The characters encounter major life changes, albeit common ones that most people experience; getting married, marriage trouble, problems at work, aging parents, caring for a child, beginning a new job, etc. These can make for some fascinating stories, but I felt the way they were handled here made them seem as mundane as real life actually is. Events seem very ordinary, even if they are well written and well acted. I think the what makes these things so interesting to me as a westerner is it peeks into the lives and customs of average residents in modern day Mumbai. What was happening was less interesting as how it was happening. I think that if this exact same story was set in Seattle, for example, it would be a hopeless bore.
The Lunchbox unknots the trials, tribulations, fears, and hopes of everyday people without the glamour that the city of Mumbai has become synonymous with. It's warm, affectionate, and sweet without being overly sentimental. It may have some independent film tropes but they are well incorporated and are good examples of these tropes. Other independent film makers could learn a few lessons from The Lunchbox. The camera work was solid and well shot. The acting was good and featured a talented cast. The only downside that western audiences might face is that it is not an English film. There are bits of English here and there, but the language used is Hindi with English subtitles. If that is too off putting, you're better off skipping this one. The Lunchbox is a good movie I'm glad I saw it, but it's not likely something I'd go out of my way to see again. It's an above average renter.

Have you seen a particularly good foreign romantic movie? Comment below and tell me all about it!

I loved the lunchboxes used in the film. They're called a "dabba" or Indian-style tiffin box. It's a metal and cylindrical, and comes apart in four tiers making four compartments or bowls. I actually found one of these Four Tier Indian-Tiffin Boxes online. I'd love to have one! Go check it out for yourself!

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