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Posts Tagged ‘Nawazuddin Siddiqui’

Long term readers may recall my general antipathy towards the traditional cutesy and predictable rom-com formula, mainly on the grounds that it has none of the connection to reality that it affects to, and doesn’t work hard enough to earn its big moments of emotional release. Long term readers may also recall my general policy of ‘stroke a bandicoot’ when it comes to non-Anglophone cinema. So things were finely poised when it came to Ritesh Batra’s Hindi-language rom-com The Lunchbox. As it transpires, however, I currently seem to be stuck in the habit of going to the cinema at least twice a week, so it’s almost difficult not to see films at the moment.

lunchbox

Central to the plot of Batra’s film are the famed dabbawallahs of Mumbai, who deliver hundreds of thousands of packed lunches to the workers of the city from their nearest and dearest, with a staggeringly tiny error rate of only one misdirected lunch in every seven million. As the plot of The Lunchbox is predicated on a lunch going astray on a regular basis, you might expect the dabbawallahs themselves to be getting justifiably cross about this misrepresentation. For all I know, they are, but disgruntled lunch delivery technicians in Mumbai don’t usually make the news in the UK.

Anyway, the lunch in question is prepared by Ila (Nimrat Kaur), an unhappy young housewife attempting to rekindle her husband’s affection for her. But due to the statistically improbable slip-up mentioned above, the delicious meals she so painstakingly prepares end up on the desk of curmudgeonly widower Saajan (Irrfan Khan). Saajan is on the verge of retirement, and, although this is voluntary, still doesn’t seem delighted at the prospect. Possibly it’s just the prospect of training his overly-perky replacement Shaikh (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) which is bringing him down.

Well, anyway, Saajan proves much more appreciative of Ila’s cookery than her husband has ever been, and the two begin exchanging notes via the rather laborious mechanism of the lunchbox itself. Slowly their relationship develops, and causes both of them to reconsider their attitude to life, and their hopes for the future.

You are probably already imagining what The Lunchbox is like, but I have to say the version you have running through your head is considerably cuter, less thoughtful, and more annoyingly obvious than the one that Ritesh Batra has actually made. This is almost certainly a wholly good thing. In fact, for much of its running time The Lunchbox doesn’t look much like a rom-com at all. I’m not even sure I would actually call this film a comedy. There are certainly many lighter moments, mostly courtesy of Shaikh and Ila’s unseen upstairs neighbour (voiced by Bharati Achrekar), but much of the film has a poignant, almost melancholic quality, as the characters consider the harsher realities of their lives. This is unmistakably an Indian movie, and the premise of the plot is a uniquely Indian institution, but the wider themes of the piece are universal ones – fear of ageing, loneliness, loss, acceptance, and so on. The movie isn’t afraid to venture, briefly, into some quite dark places.

As a result the relationship between Saajan and Ila, as it slowly and quite credibly develops, really feels as though it means something and could make a difference to both of them. In short, the film works hard to earn an emotional response from the audience, rather just resorting to cheap tricks and gimmickry. It’s an ironic thing, but it seems to me that films which do this are also the ones most likely to avoid giving the audience the big moment of emotional release which they have worked so hard to justify. Does The Lunchbox fall into this category? It would be remiss of me to give away the end of the film, but it was certainly unexpected when it came. This was the kind of movie where many members of the audience stayed in their seats long into the credits, almost as if they were hoping to learn a little more about what would happen to the characters.

The film’s depiction of Mumbai life is convincingly vivid, and for me brought back many memories of living in south Asia. The three main performances are uniformly strong, benefiting from a subtle and layered script. Irrfan Khan shows the star quality which has started to make him a fixture in major Hollywood movies: this isn’t the showiest of parts, but Khan portrays a man coming to a new understanding of himself with meticulous skill and nuance – this is as good a performance as I’ve seen this year.

As you can tell, I liked this film a lot, mainly because it sticks a lot less closely to the rom-com playbook than I feared it might. It’s one of those films which sets out to warm your heart and for the most part actually succeeds. I’m not saying it made me want to set out in search of new romance in my life, but it certainly made me fancy a curry, and this is amongst the least of its achievements.

 

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