Two lonely souls connect in international award-winner The Lunchbox

by Mark Burger

Writer/director Ritesh Batra’s award-winning humanist fable The Lunchbox (originally titled Dappa) offers not only a offers a glimpse into contemporary Indian culture but also an insightful look into the emotions of its principal characters.

Irrfan Khan (also an executive producer), whose sad eyes and slumped demeanor are enormously effective in conveying his character’s loneliness and depression, plays Saajan, a widowed accountant being pushed into retirement. Each day he has lunch delivered to his office via Mumbai’s massive lunch-delivery network and each day it’s the same.

Then one day when he mistakenly receives the lunchbox prepared by Ila (Nimrat Kaur) for her husband (Nakul Vaid). It’s an unexpected error but, as it turns out, not an unwelcome one. Ila, a young mother whose husband Rajeev spends most of his free time on his cellphone, is in many ways as lonely and isolated as Saajan is.

An unusual connection begins when Saajan and Ila begin writing notes to each other in the lunchbox each day. As neither has ever laid eyes on the other, each feels a little more free to express their feelings in relative anonymity. It quickly becomes more than just a correspondence but not quite a relationship.

The Lunchbox has been compared by some – and favorably – to Ernst Lubitsch’s 1940 romantic comedy The Shop Around the Corner (which was none-too-deftly remade as You’ve Got Mail in 1998). There are a few basic similarities, but The Lunchbox can’t really be classified a comedy, although it does have humorous moments. There’s a palpable dramatic undercurrent, provided as much by Batra’s compassionate treatment as Khan and Kaur’s touching performances.

The film does lose a little momentum in the later stages, and the denouement offers no pat (or even clear) resolution. It ends on a curious note, but one that can be interpreted as hopeful “¦ in its own unique way. (In Hindi with English subtitles)

The Lunchbox is scheduled to open Friday !

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