‘The Lunch Box’: Charming, Endearing Realism

 

“Sometimes the wrong train can get you to the right station.”

What if your home-made lunch intended for your busy husband is received by a stranger due to a mistake of a lunch box delivery man? In Ritesh Batra’s Cannes Film Festival 2013 Audience Choice awardee “The Lunch Box,” that very thing has happened to a young and unhappy wife whose well-prepared and delicious lunch box gets eaten by the wrong person, who turns out to give her the response she has been yearning for.

The Lunch Box is included in this year’s New Asian Cinema category of Cinema One Originals Film Festival running from November 9-18 at Trinoma, Glorietta, Greenhills Dolby Atmos and Fairview Terraces. This is the third festival for me this year and I’ve never had this much time to see so many festivals before until now.

I was watching Cinema One on the telly one night and my brother Jonson and I saw the trailer/teaser for the Cinema One Festival, so I saw this film there first. Not surprisingly, my brother already saw the movie, which he always does when it comes to films like this one. I always take into consideration his views on films, so when he said it’s a good one; I had to really see it myself.

Before seeing the film, my brother told me that the lunch box delivery in India really exists. They actually have a lunch box delivery system. As I was watching the first few scenes of the film, I was simply amazed to see how far the lunch boxes travel to get to its destination. The Dabbawala (one who carries the box) as they are called in Hindi transport the boxes first by a bicycle then via the train before they reach their destinations, to many employees working in the bustling city of Mumbai.

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According to an article from the The Guardian, the Dabbawala know who they’re delivering to, and that there is only one in a million chance that they could make a mistake on the deliveries. And by a simple stroke of fate and coincidence, this one in a million chance of mistake fell on Ila, a mother and housewife trying her best to put some flavor to her increasingly dull marriage through her cooking and Saajan – a senior officer at a company’s claims department, a widower and about to retire from his 35-year job.

What seems to be a slight mistake brought a pinch of happiness between the two, breaking the monotony of their seemingly colorless lives. Just like the saying “Sometimes the wrong train can get you to the right station.”

Sajaan, at first reaction was surprised by the food that arrived on his desk but didn’t think of it as a big deal. Thinking it was the restaurant that’s been preparing his food made the lunch that day, he personally went to thank  them and told them to keep up the good work. The restaurant staff thought the cauliflower made the trick.

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Back at Ila’s home, she was excited to receive the lunch box completely empty. Thinking that it was a sign of positive response from her busy husband, she delightfully tells the good news to her auntie who lives at the unit above them. However, her husband came home without any ecstatic reaction about the lunch he had. His simple reply was that it was good, just good and nothing else. He praised the cauliflower though, which instantly confirmed the idea that the lunch box went to someone else who actually liked the food she prepared.

Wanting to solve the mystery, she made another lunch box that seemed like meatballs and made a simple note to Sajaan in the hopes that he would reply. Sajaan replied  to her note but instead of thanking her for the lunch, he commented about the saltiness of the lunch despite still emptying the lunch box. Ila was a bit flustered to receive a comment slightly criticizing her cooking instead of a thank you. Her auntie, furious about the response gave her chilies to balance out the saltiness. She did as instructed and made another lunch. This time, Sajaan’s replied that the food was too spicy. Despite this, she continued to make lunch and what started as a mistake turned into an exchange of correspondences through letters and the lunch box.

The continuous exchange eventually created an avenue for the two of them to contemplate and turn to each other about their respective issues. She tells Sajaan,” What do we live for?” If her husband lives for work, her auntie whose husband stays alive by staring at the ceiling fan and her mother caring for her father with cancer, but what about her. For the first time, Ila finds herself eagerly awaiting the reply from the lunch box. In return, Sajaan finds it relaxing to talk to Ila; slowly breaking down his cold exterior. He opens up to her about his deceased wife and her favorite TV program that he started watching consecutively. At some point, Ila finds out about her husband’s infidelity but unable to confront him but feels comfortable telling Sajaan about it.

Ila finds herself at a crossroad, she tells Sajaan that she wants to go to Bhutan with her daughter and start anew. Sajaan replies, “What if I come to Bhutan with you?”

I appreciate the film a lot because it’s so charmingly close to reality. It’s realism at its finest. Of course, people go to the movies for escapism, to escape from their daily lives and not watch something that mirrors everything that’s real – whether it’s the good, bad or the worst. But The Lunch Box doesn’t need to rely on superficial things, on controversies, big emotions, scandals, intense scenes, tensions and confrontations.

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It’s all about real and the common human dilemmas – Ila represents the many women who are trapped in a lifeless marriage but not even have the courage to confront her husband; Sajaan represents the widowers who are left alone, no other family to tend to, have developed an ice-cold exterior, dedicated long years in their career, and on the verge of retirement; Ila’s husband being the symbol of how people neglect families and affection in exchange of securing a family but tends to remain in the family despite lack or loss of love; Sheikh – the new claims department staff represents the many orphans working hard for a living while trying to gain respect for themselves and from people. At some parts of the film, he provides a tinge of humor when he suddenly breaks the cherry atmosphere of Sajaan as he reads Ila’s letters during lunch. At first impression, I find him quite annoying, I mean the character but then I can’t help but smile when he manages to make Sajaan respect him and how he slowly becomes a close confidant to Sajaan who he could trust. The moment when Sajaan first shared the lunch showed Sajaan opening his door to Sheikh.

The film makes you to realize, appreciate the wonders of the simplest, even the most mundane of things. The beauty and joy of a simple exchange of conversations among strangers who incidentally finds  some solace from each other. At how the modern world of email can never be able to recreate the unique feel of reading handwritten letters, the intricacies and the underlying value of food and its preparation, and how a good food can magically make a difference even to complete strangers.

It partially tells how an accidental meeting and constant conversation can bring about different kind of emotions in people who barely know each other. It’s not entirely focused on the love story, it never forced the idea that they should fall in love. Although it does imply the seemingly forming chemistry until Sajaan retreats on that day when he was supposed to meet Ila. He chooses to watch her from afar, thinking that it might not be the right thing to approach her and introduce himself.

But despite not meeting and formally getting to know each other, their strange meeting through the misdelivered lunch box has changed them permanently; at how they perceive, appreciate things in life, view people’s lives and their own, and even their emotions, thoughts and their course of actions.

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