Like a tiffin carrier, The Lunchbox has levels – it is the story of a man so lonely, he’s forgotten what any companionship means. It is the story of a suburban housewife, deeply alone. It is the story of meeting via eating. It is a love-story – and a love-letter to Mumbai, to trains that go dhak-dhak, to dabbawalas and rain, to love and life, sugar and spice, the despair and hope that mark every heart.
Saajan Fernandes (Irrfan) is an accountant. His wife having died, the childless Saajan is a cold, prickly grouch avoided by all. One day, a lunchbox prepared by Ila (Nimrat) for her husband somehow reaches Saajan instead. He devours her delicacies, the empty box returned evidence of his enjoyment. Annoyed by the stranger’s lack of thanks, Ila sends him another lunchbox with a sarcastic note – he responds. Suddenly, the two are writing daily, sharing jokes, fears, passions for keema and kadhi – then, a desire to meet.
This movie is held together by delicate performances. Irrfan leads the way, underplayed, yet lasting, like a cardamom between your lips. With moments like Fernandes catching himself in a street painter’s sketch, Irrfan shows an ordinary life with extraordinary deftness, resurrecting that childhood uncle, who, begged to return your ball, would snarl, “Do I look like your servant?”
Irrfan is matched by Nimrat’s Ila, soft as a sandesh, but with a mysterious, molten heart. Quiet moments, like Nimrat’s expression when she smells the world on her husband’s shirts, catch you. Ila’s story, housewives living for husbands who switch off, is beautifully conveyed. The two are ably supported by chirpy, pesky Shaikh (Nawazuddin), Saajan’s trainee, chopping vegetables on office files, melting the final barriers to Fernandes’ frozen heart.
Warming this feast is a wonderful screenplay – Bharti Achrekar, visible in voice as ‘Aunty’ – and sound recording that must be heard to be believed. As Fernandes eats Ila’s lunches, every lick, every slurp, every little swallow comes through. Its finesse qualifies this charmer as India’s potential entry to the Oscars, The Lunchbox an unusual banquet, raising a bitter-sweet toast to life.
Two strangers fall in love over a lunchbox of letters – do they ever meet?
The Times of India