The Lunchbox Review | London Film Festival 2013

The Lunchbox Review London Film Festival 2013Warm and poignant romantic comedies with a distinctive edge are always to be desired when the genre has been hammered to death. Ritesh Batra‘s The Lunchbox (Dabba) has promise to be as such; a sweet and uplifting tale that offers something unique. Sadly though, while this well-meaning effort will be strong enough to make many smile, this old-fashioned epistolary romance remains far too conventional, cinematically and narratively thin to provide anything memorable.

The premise is quirky enough. In Mumbai, caring housewife Ila (Nimrat Kaur) is striving to win back her husbands (Nakul Vaid) indifferent affections. She aims for his heart through his stomach, and carefully crafts him the best homemade food for his metal tiffin and sends it off through the efficient dabbawala lunchbox service for him to receive at work. This has come about through the advice of her nosy elderly upstairs neighbour Mrs Deshpande (Bharati Achrekar), who sends ingredients down via a wicker basket. Problem is there is a glitch in the system and it accidentally gets sent to jaded widower Saajan Fernandes (Irrfan Khan).

Saajan has worked in the claims department of a bleak government office for thirty five years and is awaiting early retirement. Khan effectively gets across the isolation and boredom such a man might feel, an expression of constant disappointment across his face. He smokes a lonely cigarette in the evening in his modest apartment, peering into his neighbour’s window at a family eating dinner, and watches re-runs of shows his wife used to love. When this unexpected gift arrives on his desk it is a breath of fresh air for him, this divine smelling homemade food is a contrast to the repetitive run-of-the-mill produce he expects from his local restaurant. He laps it all up and sends it back entirely empty. Ila, confused but pleased her efforts have been acknowledged, sends a letter with her next batch and a traditional exchange between the two characters begins. They write about their empty lives, their hopes and dreams, and make each other laugh.

There is nothing wrong with this pleasingly executed love story about two lost souls connecting – and quite the contrary – it must have done something right. It’s enjoying interest from major Western film funds; Berlinae’s Talent Campus, Torino Film Lab and Sundance Lab to name a few. It premiered at the International Critics Week at this years Cannes, and went on to win the Critics Week Viewers Choice Award, otherwise known as the Grand Rail d’Or. The fact it has both mainstream and niche appeal is not to be ignored. It is also a very Indian film with clear crossover ability to worldwide audiences. What then, is the problem? I expected and wanted to love it, I really did. Its intentions are so pure; iIt feels like receiving a knitted jumper from a distant relative that doesn’t quite fit or isn’t the right colour. The humour was delivered all too often in the form of Ila’s nosy neighbour and Saajin’s excitable young colleague Aslam Shaikh (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) who constantly pesters him. The method of cutting away between the characters as they read their letters over a voice over felt all too familiar. Rather than finding The Lunchbox delicious, it just tasted like something I had consumed many times before.

This review comes from a screening at the 57th BFI London Film Festival 2013 (LFF 2013).

About The Author

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.