Of the lore about dabbas and dabbawallahs, the one aspect that wouldn’t go down well in the community is a wrong delivery. But the new man in the director’s seat, Ritesh Batra has set his debut feature, The Dabba, on this premise, which stars Irrfan Khan and Nawazuddin Siddiqui and will premiere at the Cannes Critics’ Week.
“I was researching a documentary I wanted to make on the dabbawallahs in 2007, so I embedded myself with them for a week. I realised that the dabbawallahs know a lot of interesting tidbits about people they pick lunchboxes from — this housewife tries something new every day, this lunchbox smells the same, the mother-in-law rules this house and so on.”
Batra exploited this track to formulate a story between a young housewife Ila Singh (Nimrat Kaur) and a man past his prime Sajan Fernandes (Irrfan Khan) premised on a mistaken dabba delivery. Soon, they form a connection that goes beyond reality and climactically on the verge of shattering it.
The plot began to take shape six years ago but Batra “had a first good draft in 2011. It’s tough to make a film happen, especially a strange film like this one that’s funny and sad, and doesn’t fit in a genre. But my actors and crew made it easier. The actors were invested in the film and in their characters.”
Elated at the selection as an offbeat filmmaker in Cannes, he says, “We didn’t expect our little film to go to Cannes, but it’s a great bonus apart from making it.”
As an independent filmmaker, he feels that going through one’s own journey is important. “It’s better to be a best version of you than to be an inferior Quentin Tarantino or Wong Kar Wai,” he concludes.