We all know what this city offers us… opportunities, excitement, adventure and also loneliness, monotony and misery. But the storyteller of The Lunchbox, Ritesh Batra wakes us up to another fact that most of us don’t care to recognise. Hidden under many layers of harsh reality, life in this city also holds the promise of magic – the magic of anonymity and the magic of the unpredictable.
Ila (Nimrat Kaur) lives in a typical cramped house in Mumbai with her school-going daughter and her husband who holds a 9 to 5 job. Even though she has the ‘happy’ family, Ila leads a lonely, uninspiring life. Her confidante, not surprisingly, is the lady who lives on the floor above and thanks to the space crunch in the city, the two ladies are able to talk to each other from the windows of their own homes. Ila’s loneliness starts taking root in you, as she in her regular, non-dramatic manner goes on living a life so dead. Saddled with a husband (Nakul Vaid) who is clearly not interested in her and the domestic responsibilities, Ila’s spirit is slowly dying. And it is then that she starts a liaison of sorts with a just about to retire man, Sajjan Fernandez (Irrfan Khan).
Sajjan’s wife is dead and he lives alone. He leads a dull and listless life and his only solace is his workplace, where he is appreciated for his diligence and sincerity. That’s perhaps why he resents the arrival of Shaikh (Nawazuddin Siddiqui), who would be replacing him after his retirement. Sajjan and Ila haven’t met but helped by a twist of fate, they start sending each other little personal notes and soon these initially inhibited and later intimate notes become the highlight of their lonely existence. This relationship slowly turns into a unique, heart-warming love story. It is perhaps finding this unexpected treasure of emotion and happiness that makes Sajjan also warm up to Shaikh, thus turning that association into an awkward but solid friendship.
Irrfan Khan as a man who’s toughened himself because of the unfortunate circumstances, is brilliant to say the least. Irrfan proves it yet again that an actor of his calibre is difficult to come by. Giving him able company is Nawazuddin Shaikh, As an orphan with no family to call his own, and someone who is desperately hunting for a father figure, Shaikh puts up a convincing performance. Nimrat Kaur as Ila is a pleasant enough surprise as she looks and plays the part of a helpless housewife longing for some attention to almost perfection.
The best thing about Batra’s execution and writing is that he never veers away from the matter-of-fact manner of a Mumbaiite’s life. No drama, no OTT emotions. Just accepting reality and moving on. The lady downstairs, Mrs Deshpande (Bharati Achrekar) embodies it the best… even though coping with a personal tragedy, she tries her best to help Ila out of her situation, not even for once losing her sense of humour.
Watch this film for the fuzzy, heart-melting feeling that it will give you through the two-odd hour duration. But also watch it for the hidden charm, the stoic way the protagonists face the problem with their own brand of positivity and optimism. The famous spirit of Mumbai couldn’t have been captured better than this. Don’t miss it.