Rajeev Masand – movies that matter : from bollywood, hollywood and everywhere else

September 20, 2013


Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 10:44 pm

September 20, 2013

Cast: Irrfan Khan, Nimrat Kaur, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Lilette Dubey, Nakul Vaid, Bharati Achrekar

Director: Ritesh Batra

In an age when instant messaging, email, and various social media have made communication easier and quicker, debutant writer-director Ritesh Batra relies on scribbled notes tucked in tiffin boxes to deliver a charming, old-fashioned love story in The Lunchbox. There’s a simple line in this sumptuous film that captures its essence beautifully: “Sometimes even the wrong train can take you to the right destination.” It’s a line that might help interpret the film’s open ending, but one that also nicely sums up its unique premise.

Neglected housewife and caring mother Ila (Nimrat Kaur), determined to spice up her loveless marriage, heeds the advice of a well-meaning Aunty in the flat upstairs (a terrific Bharati Achrekar, heard but never seen) and whips up a killer meal for her husband. But as luck would have it, a rare error in Mumbai’s famously efficient dabbawala service results in the tiffin landing up at the desk of a grumpy accountant on the verge of retirement, a widower named Saajan Fernandes (Irrfan Khan). On realizing that her lovingly prepared meal was eaten by someone else, Ila encloses a note in the steel lunchbox the following day. Saajan writes back and this pair of strangers begins a tentative friendship through routinely exchanged letters, sharing with each other their dreams, their memories of loved ones snatched away, and their empty lives.

As much a love letter to Mumbai as it is a searing portrait of loneliness, The Lunchbox unfolds against the bustle of this teeming city. Batra and his cinematographer give us skillfully composed sequences of a dabba’s long journey from the kitchen to the desk of its intended recipient. We travel with our characters in local trains, buses and taxis; we go into Ila’s middle-class cheek-to-jowl apartment block to Saajan’s modest Bandra cottage and the dull government office he has worked 35 years at. It’s a metro bursting at its seams, and yet our protagonists are lost souls here.

The third wheel in this story is Nawazuddin Siddiqui’s character Shaikh, a younger officer poised to take over from Saajan. Cheery, optimistic and always making the most of an opportunity, Shaikh forges a bond with the taciturn Saajan despite the dour older man’s initial reluctance. You see flashes of Mumbai in Shaikh’s personality – it is a city that invites you to embrace it with all its flaws. Nawazuddin is wholly endearing and funny in the role; we’re unaccustomed to seeing the actor in this light and it’s a sheer delight.

Still, it is the two central actors that grab hold of your attention in this story. Irrfan Khan, as the loner who loosens up when he falls in love, makes a nuanced role seem deceptively simple, yet gives Saajan emotional heft. With The Lunchbox, Irrfan adds another inspired performance to his extraordinary repertoire. The surprise ingredient here is the relatively unknown Nimrat Kaur as Ila. Playing an insecure hausfrau who gradually blossoms into her own person, the actress doesn’t take one wrong step. Spending much of the film alone, she makes Ila entirely believable, yet infuses her with an irresistible luminosity.

The unseen hero of this delicious love story is writer-director Ritesh Batra who pulls off a near perfect script that’s reflective of a city and the people that live in it. Through the relationships his characters share, Batra displays a great understanding of human nature, embracing its many complexities. He also masterfully blends food into this narrative, turning it into such a sensory experience that you want to rush out of the cinema and tuck into a lovely meal. The single false note in this bittersweet symphony is Lilette Dubey, a tad over-made up, her performance uncharacteristically melodramatic for this subtle film.

I’m going with five out of five for The Lunchbox. The greatest love stories are the ones that make you root for the protagonists to come together, despite their destinies. This film illustrates how love transforms the unlikeliest of people; it breaks down Saajan’s walls and gives Ila the courage to fly. Treat yourself to The Lunchbox – it’ll leave you with a craving to seek your own little happiness. Best film I’ve seen in a long time.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)


  1. This movie is good and why are you giving biased reviews, I mean you cop-out on the pot boilers and praise the art movies. This deserves a 4+ rating and not a complete 5.

    Comment by Vinay — September 29, 2013 @ 11:16 am

  2. Neither a reviewer’s job is to please specific reader nor it is to be mother Teresa to love one and all alike.
    It’s reviwer’s view and he eats his bread due to it.
    Why we want to attract attention by negatively shouting.

    Comment by Ashish Tripathi — September 30, 2013 @ 11:46 pm

  3. may be perhaps i attached so much expectation after reading your review- but no man- pasand nahi aayi… even 5 out of 10 would have been a fair remark

    Comment by Vivek Anand — October 2, 2013 @ 6:01 pm

  4. So, you mean it’s better than ‘the dark knight’.

    Comment by Luit — October 3, 2013 @ 1:03 am

  5. Great movie. Hats off to Irfann khan for such a gripping performance.He has been given nothing by director and his entire role required intense facial expression.

    This movie should have been shorter.I feel this movie is not worth Oscars.There will be better movies which would have killed Lunchbox at Oscars.

    Comment by Amardeep Singh Sidhu — October 3, 2013 @ 1:09 pm

  6. The ones who have the taste to observe and admire the little things in day to day life will surely feast this movie. The clever neighbor aunty, the eager waiting for lunchbox arrival at both ends, life of dabbawalas, well meaning, beautiful but lonely housewife, opportunist and entertaining Sheikh, the playing kids have all been picturised with absolutely perfection and naturality. While Irrfan Khan lives up to his reputation, Nimrat Kaur comes across as a superb talent.

    Comment by Chethan Sharma GS — October 4, 2013 @ 3:11 pm

  7. proud that its an indian movie…

    Comment by ajaz rahman — October 6, 2013 @ 2:24 pm

  8. really nice movie

    Comment by santosh — October 8, 2013 @ 6:32 pm

  9. Mr. Masand.
    You are using the first name of the lead character, which i think is not appropriate here.
    Please take it off for the people who read your reviews before going for the movie.
    And above all for the writer. Hope you will understand and won’t find me mentioning it offensive.

    Comment by Sonu — October 10, 2013 @ 2:34 pm

  10. Finally got a chance to see the contents of The Lunch box and wow what a treat! Got to see a good movie after a long time and I thoroughly enjoyed the stuff dished out. A far cry from the humdrum of CE, Zanjeer, Satyagraha and Besharam this film has characters with whom you can identify yourself with and empathise with. Hats off to Irfan Khan and Nimrat Kaur for their down to earth performances. And Nawaz was a gem.

    Comment by Taher — October 11, 2013 @ 4:14 am

  11. the acting show by Irrfan Khan, Nawazuddin Siddiqui , you need no brains to watch this kind of movies just be calm and enjoy the minutes that you shared watch this movie , but i liked lootera more 🙂

    Comment by Siladitya — October 11, 2013 @ 9:05 am

  12. Sir, I feel the movie showcased something which is difficult to imagine at that time. The movie’s USP was its simplicity but the story seemed to be exceptional and undigestable. Honeslty, it was difficult for me to get along with the content of the movie. Director failed to show chemistry between the two leads and cleaverly wanted to take the advantage of not conveying anything at end and also in between the stores.

    Comment by Abhishek Pandey — October 27, 2013 @ 11:03 pm

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