A terrific film with three superb performances by its main characters
This is a film that reminds you that the dividing line between a good documentary and a feature film is notional; and that the best movies are good documents of life. The Lunchbox is about three lonely people forming unlikely connections that lead to unexpected moments of happiness. Saajan Fernandez (Irrfan Khan), an accountant at the ‘Claims’ department of a government office, is about to retire and, at some point, even considers retirement in Bhutan because of that country’s emphasis on GNH, Gross National Happiness.
This idea is given to him by Ila (Nimrat Kaur), a woman he’s never met but written many letters to. The nicest touch in this movie is Fernandez’s office, because even though the film is set in the present and he is an accountant, there are no computers, only dusty files. Later, we see this lonely widower at home, watching his late wife’s favourite TV serials on VHS tapes. It is a pre-digital world that director Ritesh Batra takes us to, and this is beautifully summed up in the delivery system of Mumbai’s dabbawalas.
The idea of modernity robbing us of human connections is described with charming humour in this film. Ila is unhappy in her marriage and so she lets a rare misdelivery of the dabbawala pass, to discover an inner life in sending food for someone who appreciates her for the woman she is. The daily letter in the lunchbox at noon for Fernandez, the wry and witty replies to Ila in the afternoon, it is amazing how Batra has made such an absorbing movie out of it.
The third connection is Shaikh (Nawazuddin Siddiqui), an incompetent assistant to Fernandez, who nevertheless accomplishes the impossible by making friends with him.
Beautiful and economic dialogue is the setting for three first class performances. Yes, Irrfan and Nawazuddin we know are terrific actors, but Nimrat Kaur, as a young unhappy mother and wife with memories and dreams, simply takes your breath away.