The Lunchbox

This delightful thought provoking film is sure to satisfy your craving for socially relevant Indian cinema. You won’t find any musical numbers or melodramatic love stories here. Much like the excellent Mumbai’s King (2012), the film makers are showing us a more gritty genuine and un-romanticized side of India.

This charming gentle film follows Saajan (Irrfan Khan), an aloof widower about to retire from his office job, and Ila (Nimrat Kaur), a lonely neglected housewife trying to rekindle her marriage by cooking traditional Indian dishes with spices and love.

Ritesh Batra’s unique first feature film is a quiet sensitive love story set against the backdrop of Mumbai’s dabbawallahs, or lunchbox wallas, as they pick up and deliver hot lunches prepared by the wives of office workers to their husbands working in the city. 

Mumbai’s daily lunchbox delivery system is so complex and reliable that it’s been studied by Oxford scholars and is estimated to be so accurate that dabbawallas make less than one mistake in 6 million deliveries.

Office loner and widower Saajan is a bit of an anti-social scrooge when we first meet him.  When introduced to a new employee and asked to train him to take his place before his retirement, he uses his reputation as a cold uncaring stoic to avoid him. 

The film features a fascinating look at the daily routine of Mumbai’s dabbahwallas while going about their job of gathering lunch pails from various residences and cycling, walking and taking trains across the city to office districts personally delivering each lunch to their respective destinations, returning the empty lunchboxes to their homes in the afternoon.

When Saajan’s lunchbox arrives at his workplace he’s surprised at the sudden improvement in the quality of his food, which he orders from a street side eatery. What he doesn’t realize is that he has been getting Ila’s home prepared meal meant for her husband. 

Irrfan Khan’s subtle stone face expressions have quietly been making a huge impact in Western cinema over the past few years with roles in some of my favorite highly acclaimed films like Wes Anderson’s The Darjeeling Limited (2007), Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire (2008) and Ang Lee’s Life of Pi (2012).

We get to watch as Ila prepares her aromatic home cooked food while seeking sage advice about the ingredients of love from her upstairs neighbor. She communicates her feelings through her recipes and something begins to stir inside Saajan, who starts communicating with this mysterious house wife through notes he leaves in the empty lunch bag. 

Much of the story is communicated through non-verbal facial expressions and body gestures, which gives the feeling of being witness to very private and intimate moments where no dialogue is necessary to see exactly what’s going through their minds. 

As they start to open up to each other about their feelings and frustrations, the notes get longer and Saajan slowly starts to become more compassionate to his new replacement.

The Lunchbox is a meditative study in loneliness in one of the world’s most densely populated cities and shows us that people who crave love and affection will find it when they are willing to open their hearts to it.



Mike Smith said...

Like your site will pay another call or two

Anna Khan said...


I really like Irfan Khan's acting and I am now looking forward to watch this movie when I will be free.

I hope you will also stop by my post.
thank you.

Sharon Purvis said...

I hadn't heard about this film, but I've always enjoyed Khan (really loved him in The Namesake), and I love Indian fiction, so this sounds like something I would really enjoy. Thanks for the recommendation!