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So as you know, I stopped writing lengthy reviews on this site this year, keeping the blog as more of a film diary of sorts.  Lo and behold,...

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Movie Review - The Lunchbox

The Lunchbox (2014)
Starring Irrfan Khan, Nimrat Kaur, Nakul Vaid, and Nawazuddin Siddiqui
Directed by Ritesh Batra

In India, there is a fascinating business built upon the delivery of fresh lunches to businessmen.  Men called dabbawallas will pick up hot meals in lunchboxes from housewives and deliver them through a variety of transport -- bike, train, cars -- and then also return the empty lunchboxes back to the housewives.  Studied by Harvard for its surprisingly complex yet incredibly accurate methods of delivery, the whole dabbawalla concept is incredibly intriguing and seems oddly unnecessary to us Westerners who are used to packing or buying a lunch.

This uniquely Indian concept is the basis for first-time director and screenwriter Ritesh Batra's The Lunchbox which oddly feels like an old-school version of the distinctly American You've Got Mail.  With her marriage a little rocky, Ila (Nimrat Kaur) is trying to win over her husband's affections by cooking him delicious lunches and sending them via the dabbawalla to his work.  When the lunchbox returns empty, Ila is excited that Rajeev (Nakul Vaid) may finally be warming up to her again.  Unfortunately, Ila discovers that Rajeev is not the one who has been receiving her lunches.  Instead, widowed fifty-something Saajan (Irrfan Khan) has been partaking of her meals thinking that they're coming from a restaurant.  Intrigued by whomever is finding her lunches delicious, Ila begins to write notes to her lunchbox recipient and, eventually, Saajan begins to write her back.  The two begin to reveal a variety of secrets to one another and find themselves connecting through the power of words and food.

While the film falters a bit in its final act with an ending that doesn't quite wrap things up, everything up to that point is lovely and charming.  Considering that the lovelorn Ila and the lonely Saajan hardly share a scene together throughout the whole film, relative newcomer Nimrat Kaur and veteran Irrfan Khan do an amazing job at conveying all we need to know through their facial reactions and their voiceover reading of their various notes sent back and forth to one another.  Kaur in particular is captivating in her growing sorrow that her marriage is crumbling and her burgeoning hope that Saajan may be the man to lift her out of her rut.  There's a scene in which Ila is waiting for Saajan at a bar and Kaur's ability to emote her character's nervousness and anticipation is fantastic for someone so fresh to the cinematic game.

Ritesh Batra's film is always charming, but it sometimes wears a little thin.  As mentioned, the film ends ambiguously and while I understand the moralistic reasonings for it (the differences in Indian and American culture are particularly apparent at the conclusion), I found that it left me wanting.  Additionally, for comedic effect, Nawazuddin Siddiqui is thrown into the mix as an apprentice of the retiring Saajan and his character doesn't ever quite click -- proving to be more of an annoyance than a real plot enhancer and Batra unfortunately gives the character much more attention than he should have in the film's second half.  That said, Siddiqui's character Shaikh gives us a rather beautiful adage that carried with me well after the film concluded and has given me something to ponder -- "Sometimes even the wrong train gets you to the right station."

The RyMickey Rating:  B

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