Cast: Irrfan Khan, Nimrat Kaur, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Lillete Dubey, Bharti Achrekar, Nakul Vaid
Director: Ritesh Batra
IE Rating: *** 1/2
Imagine this. You are a man on the down slope of middle age. There are only dead ends in your dead beat life. You work in an office in which you push files all day long, and the days blur into sameness. And then one afternoon, as you pull your lunchbox towards yourself, something stirs. An unknown fragrance wafts out of the dabba, and you pause, and you look again. Is this really yours? You hesitate, look inside. Instead of the everyday, dull industrial food that you pay a monthly sum for, your lunchbox is loaded with home-made goodies that bring a smile to your eyes and mouth. This is food made with love, sweat and tears. This is food for the soul.
In one of the best performances you are likely to encounter, Irrfan, playing Saajan Fernandes, makes you see that middle-aged man. Not just see, but feel. That lunch box becomes a symbol of hope. Of a renewed interest in the present. And of a future, waiting to be realised.
Ritesh Batra's research on the legendary Mumbai dabbawalas who deliver millions of lunchboxes everyday through the city with unerring accuracy, led to his first feature. 'The Lunchbox' is about a dabba that fetches up at the wrong table, and the tasty fall-out of that little sin. I don't know if those famed dabbawalas have ever made such a mistake, but the result of Batra's mixed-up 'dabbas' is lovely, with a lingering delectable after-taste.
Ila (Nimrat Kaur) is a young stay-at-home wife and mother, whose routine – wake up, get kiddo ready, see off hubby, sort out clothes for the wash, get the dabba ready—is leavened by perky chats with an elderly neighbour, whose nosiness we overlook because of her apparent affection for Ila (we never see her, only hear the voice, and then we clock Bharati Achrekar's distinctive accent). She gives Ila pro tips on seasoning and condiments and ingredients, to target her husband's (Nakul Vaid) stomach, and through it, his increasingly indifferent heart .
Irrfan says little, letting his body do the talking. He is sitting most of the time we see him. At a desk, piled with crumpled paper, where he crunches numbers. At a table in the office canteen, where he spreads the dabba's