Dictionary defines “disarming” as “tending to remove any feelings of
unfriendliness or distrust” and “allaying criticism or hostility.” It’s the
word that best describes my reaction to an elegantly simple Indian film called The Lunchbox, which marks the feature debut
of director Ritesh Batra, who also wrote the screenplay. It’s the
story of an epistolary relationship that develops between an earnest housewife,
who diligently prepares lunch for her husband every day, and a bookkeeper on
the verge of retirement, who repeatedly receives her lunch by accident.
Over the course of days and weeks, the neglected wife gains a degree of
self-confidence from this correspondence, while the aging worker-bee starts to
see himself in a new light. Along the way we come to share their wistful
feelings about a city (and civilization) that is becoming overcrowded and less
compassionate than it used to be.
Batra takes a low-key approach to the story and relies a
great deal on the expressive faces of his actors, the redoubtable Irrfan Khan
and the less familiar but no less engaging Nimrat Kaur. Their subtle
performances enhance this delicate material and make the film a pleasure to
I wish I had known more about the Dabbawallahs, a group of
five thousand deliverymen who, for more than a century, have brought hot
lunches to workers throughout Mumbai. Although they are illiterate, their
system of organization is virtually flawless and was even studied by Harvard
University. Other aspects of the film, involving the neighborhoods and
backgrounds of the two protagonists, only became clear once I read the
production notes. It would have enhanced my experience to learn these things
from the film itself; I’m sure this would be true for other non-Indian viewers.