The Lunchbox

[Cast: Irfan Khan, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Nimrat Kaur; Music: Max Richter; Direction: Ritesh Batra]

I have to provide a disclaimer here. I have a specific bias for leisurely-edited films. I am prejudiced against fast-paced, MTV-style edited films. If the director lets you linger on an actor’s face or a scene, it shows their confidence in his or her cast.

I also have a specific bias for films with least amount of background music. To me it emphatically accentuates the confidence the director has on his or her material. They know what the scene should convey so they don’t need music to amplify it.

When both these things are found in a film, I’m bound to like it by default, even if the film is nonsense.

Lunchbox can’t be nonsense, not because I loved it, but the whole world seems to love it. So it’s not just because the scenes are leisurely set or there is no music (barring a couple of scenes). It’s because it’s a great film.

Irfan Khan must be picking up quite a few fan following nowadays, deservedly so too. Although he is not single-handedly carrying this film, he gives an impression that he alone matters in the film. This is amazing especially considering that the screen time is shared by equally skilled Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Nimrat Kaur, in a stunning debut.

And of course, what makes the characters and their problems work is the film’s unhurried approach. The taxi arrives and the passenger gets down, picks up her purse, and hands over the cash to the driver. Everything is quietly observed. We realise that we have to relax if we were to enjoy it. This is not one of those ASL-hurry films where the editor is on steroid. Within five minutes, we know that every character, their expressions, why, even their thoughts are going to be observed. Here the editor was sitting on a meditation rug. Of course I was not bored even once. It actually seemed like the Interval came too soon, whereas the film had run for nearly an hour.

Ritesh Batra has taken pains to ensure that the film felt as natural as possible to the viewer. As a result, not a single scene felt contrived, not a single moment felt melodramatic. When the scene where the lead characters decide to meet each other, I was a bit anxious because I wasn’t sure if Batra was going to make a mistake by staging some melodramatic stunt and ruin it. But he doesn’t. The outcome is a bit unexpected, but feels entirely in place with the film’s mood. And what happens in the next day is even more surprising and powerfully satisfying. Naturally, the two lead characters, Saajan and Ila, are affected by the film’s development. Their outlook changes and so are their goals. Even Shaik, Saajan’s understudy, evolves over the story. Is it because he also ate out of Saajan’s lunchbox? We’re not sure. Perhaps because of the food connection, he too plays a crucial role in changing Saajan’s worldview.

The Lunchbox is a study in urban mediocrity. It’s about complicated, yet unpronounced, marriages, false pride, distant ambitions, lack of ambitions,  freedom, and of course, humanity. Outside the film’s theme, what is satisfying is about how Bollywood has come of age. When films like Satya and Lagaan came, we know we’re in for a golden age. This is that golden age of Indian Cinema. It’s not about one odd Pather Panchali in the midst of truckload of trash. It’s actually quality cinema standing confidently and unpretentiously in the mainstream. With Malayalam producing films like Trivandrum Lodge, Bollywood asserting itself with Dhobi Ghat, Lootera and Lunchbox, it must be the greatest time for a film buff to be living in India.

The title cards informed us, to our pleasant surprise, that Karan Johar has co-produced this film. Please Karan, make two Kabhi Kushi Kabhi Gham every year, we won’t mind, but produce one Lunchbox every year.