Well, it’s over then. Yes my adoring readership, No-English Moviember for 2015 has come to a close. Please wipe away your tears, I know how heart rending this is. But fear not, for although we are at the end, we still have one last film to go and, as I sit here typing with the blustering winds outside, I shall transport you to sunnier climes with Ritesh Batra’s The Lunchbox.
Ila (Nimrat Kaur) is a wife and mother, is looking for a way to rekindle the spark that has been lost in her marriage and decides to get her husband’s love through the best way possible: his stomach. Handing his lunch to the dabbawalas (people who deliver lunches in India, although this is most prevalent in Mumbai, to people in work and then return them that afternoon).
However, in a rare mix-up, Ila’s husband does not receive it, but is instead received by Saajan Fernandes (Irrfan Khan), a widower workings in the claims department of an accountancy firm, is facing early retirement and is given the new and chatty Shaikh (Nawazuddin Siddiqu) to train as his replacement, much to his indifference. Returning the lunchbox spotless, Ila believes all is well with her husband, but when he notes his lunches difference, Ila notices something is wrong. Upon the urging of the unseen Auntie (Bharati Achrekar), Ila sends a letter in the lunchbox to the mysterious but receptive diner, and from there the letter chain begins.
Now, just to get this issue out of the way, should anyone have seen this film you will know that The Lunchbox is a film that is not entirely devoid of the English language. To put a guestimate on this, I’d say about twenty to thirty percent of the film is relayed in English. However I am allowing The Lunchbox a pass on this as, while English is used, especially during some work scenes with English being the language of business, in the world outside and most definitely of love, it is Hindi.
A lot of praise has to be given to Irrfan Khan and Nimrat Kaur who create an very relate-able characters stuck within their respective worlds. Ila is trapped in her loveless marriage and, although is free to go wherever she wants, spends the majority of the film trapped in their tiny apartment, repeating the same mundane tasks, reflecting how stagnant her life, and marriage is.
By the same token, Saajan is mostly shown doing the mundane tasks in a repetitive order. Work, eat, work, commute, watch TV, commute, work, etc. For both Ila and Saajan, the letters represent a break in that monotony, of the certain inevitability that their lives are following predestined paths. that there there is someone else out there living a life tangibly similar to your and feels very much the same as you do.
But this is not film is not merely held down by two actors alone, with particular praise going to Bharati Achrekar as Mrs Deshpande, or better known as Auntie. Unseen characters are a boon for comedic affect with Auntie pushing Ila towards sending letters and helping out with her cooking through her own delivery system. Having Auntie being that voice from upstairs is masterful, being both a source for humour and sympathy in equal measures.
But while Ila has Auntie, Saajan has Shaikh (Nawazuddin Siddiqui), a young man who, although a clear incompetent, has an happy-go-lucky attitude that completely goes against the stoic Saajan. Although an initial irritant, with many fears of him being a character stuck in for “comedy’s” sake, Shaikh’s character progressively becomes fleshed out, revealing that behind that cheesy grin lies and man with nothing desperately trying to become something.
It’s quite endearing that a man outwardly so happy also has seemingly no-one but this quite, anti-social man to be with until he returns home. Shaikh and Saajan bring something out of each other and get their characters to grow which is quite nice considering Saajan is nearing the end of his career and Shaikh just stepping into it, making you wonder will Shaikh become a new Saajan in years to come.
The Lunchbox is filled with allusions, both small and large, to life not being one simple route and aptly uses this through the metaphor of the train. Shaikh says (and I’m paraphrasing here) that wrong trains can lead to the right destination. That’s a pretty good line for the entirety of this film. Indeed, the whole film is set up with Ila’s husband’s lunch being incorrectly given to Saajan after having made it’s journey to his works via the trains of Mumbai while surrounded by singing dabbawalas.
It’s a simple point, but it works without being overtly preachy, letting you lose yourself in the epistolary romance while the message is massaged into your cranial lobes. There aren’t really other major points for this to try and contend with, with pretty much everything neatly tying into this point in some way or other, which is quite refreshing after seeing several movies trying to seem complicated then fall down exhausted with the mere weight of unnecessary and half-thought complexities.
The Lunchbox is a pleasant way to finish the No-English Moveimeber. It’s a a delightful romance, thoughtful in the issues it thrusts forward and delightful to see the similar lives to your own play out on screen with great performances to keep it together. Since it’s on Netflix, I certainly recommend you to watch it with or without your significant other(s) as you’ll certainly have a good time without unnecessary schmaltz.
Thank you all again for reading this installment of No-English Moviember 2015! It may be over but you never know, it may return for a third time should I decide to give it another go and if my delightful readership desire it. Thank you all again.