Gentle yet sad…

In Mumbai (formerly ‘Bombay’), India, there is a very complex network of 5000 Dabbawallahs.  Their job is to arrive at the homes of Indian workers to get homemade lunches from the wives and transport them all over the city so that the men can have hot, home-cooked meals every day.  Then, after lunch, they collect all the empty lunch pails and deliver them to the wives.  Despite this being a logistical nightmare, the meals get delivered to the right person all the time with very, very few mistakes—carried by hand and on bicycles and scooters by mostly illiterate men!  With the movie The Lunchbox AKA Dabba, a mistake amazingly happens and a wife’s meal arrives for a total stranger instead of her husband.  At first, the man doesn’t realize he’s eating another man’s lunch—he just thinks the restaurant that delivers his lunch box has suddenly improved!

The Lunchbox
Directed by
Ritesh Batra
Irrfan Khan, Nimrat Kaur, Nawazuddin Siddiqui
Release Date
Martin’s Grade: A-

However, once the wife realizes her mistake, she sends the next meal along with a note explaining the mix-up—and soon the pair begin exchanging letters.  At first, they are quite simple and formal.  Later, they become much more complicated, as by now the wife has realized that her husband has been cheating—and this total stranger becomes her confidante.  All during this long exchange of letters, the woman continues sending lunches to this stranger and they forge an odd friendship!  There’s far more to the film than this—see it yourself and you’ll see what I mean. The Lunchbox is the sort of film Hollywood could never make.  Part of it is, of course, because there is no comparable lunch system in the States.  Part of it, too, is that the film does not have a perfect happy ending and it doesn’t follow a typical formula.

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There is a lot of sadness and longing and the film leaves you with this, as it’s not afraid to leave the audience slightly dissatisfied.  Now I am not complaining—but Hollywood films seem to have an implicit understanding that everything must be resolved perfectly before a movie can end.  Not so with The Lunchbox.  This might upset some viewers, but it shouldn’t—it’s still a very good movie.  Plus, a ‘Hollywoodized’ ending would have been far less realistic.  And, as far as realism goes, this Indian film is not typical of a Bollywood flick either.

While it was directed and written by an Indian, Ritesh Batra, and stars Indian actors (Irrfan Khan and Nimrat Kaur),  it is also a French/German co-production.  As such, it lacks the usual song and dance numbers you find in most Indian films and is only a little over an hour and a half (most Indian films are considerably longer—often twice as long or longer).  Instead following convention, the film is all about realism.  It makes for a nice change of pace even if the ending will be vaguely unsatisfying to many viewers.  Worth seeing as long as you don’t demand formula.  And, worth seeing as long as you don’t mind reading subtitles.  A film that is truly unique and the acting is really lovely.

Review by Lead Entertainment Writer & Film Critic, Martin Hafer