TELLURIDE FILM FEST
Telluride 2013: Ritesh Batra's 'The Lunchbox' Charms with Food as Love
by Alex Billington
September 4, 2013
There's a surprisingly charming, crowd-pleasing Indian film playing the festival circuit right now that I had the pleasure of catching at the Telluride Film Festival. The feature debut of writer/director Ritesh Batra, the film is titled The Lunchbox and tells a heartfelt story of an aging, grumpy widower and his connection with a beautiful but neglected housewife through the food she makes for him. Before arriving at the festival I hadn't even heard of this film, and I met the director while attending a different screening before seeing his film. What I discovered was a gem, a delightful, heartwarming, smile-evoking film representing India well.
The Lunchbox gives audiences a good look at the impressive lunchbox delivery services in Mumbai, India, where hundreds of "dabbawallas" (or lunchbox couriers) carry homemade lunches to the workers across the city. The story focuses on Ila, played perfectly by Nimrat Kaur, a housewife who works in her kitchen all morning preparing a perfect meal for her husband, who doesn't care for her much. We follow her lunch that instead of going to her husband gets delivered to Saajan, played by the wonderful Irrfan Khan, a lonely man at the end of his working life with no one to go home to. As expected, the two start a relationship over letters put inside the lunchbox and delivered back and forth. A classic love story with modern sensibilities.
The film is the epitome of charming, in the way it intimately captures the personal emotions and hearts of the characters and presents the story in a way that easily makes any/everyone fall for them. Both sides have their own quirks, Ila the disheartened one looking for anyone that cares, and Saajan the one who thought no one would ever care about him again. Thankfully the letters are read aloud (in English voiceover) and not in any boring or problematic way. Batra uses some amusing filmmaking tricks, with music and dialogue, to spin the scenes and mix things up, especially with the young up-and-comer character that Saajan works with Aslam, played by Nawazuddin Siddiqui. I enjoyed their dynamic and the way Batra handled the letters.
While the film starts out wonderfully and delivers throughout, things do start to fall apart in the third act. It's almost as if Batra couldn't figure out how to wrap up everything nice and neatly, and fumbled around for a bit until he found the right path. The conclusion is the least satisfying part of it, which is a bit unfortunate considering there's so much love built up between the two of them early on. After all the momentum this gathers, it does start to get repetitive and redundant right when it needs to make some major turns and head for the finish. Nonetheless, it's still a beautiful film that shows just how important food is in relation to love and relationships, and why good food (even if it ends up delivered to the wrong place) is good for the soul.
This is yet another film festival gem that I will be recommending to many people, especially those who need a bit of charm and love and happiness in their life again. It may not be the most uplifting film, considering the condition of the two main characters, but that's why it's so effective. Watching these two find themselves simply by writing letters and sharing food is a deep desire many of us have. There's a classic charm to the idea that speaking openly in writing without worrying about the context or connotation establishes the most meaningful relationships. It's a lesson all of us need to learn, portrayed so perfectly in this enchanting film.
Alex's Telluride Rating: 8.5 out of 10
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