Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 20th April, 2014
The dabbawallahs of Mumbai, who deliver tiffin or light lunch to clients in their workplace, usually from their home where the wife has prepared the meal, have a record of many decades of reliability behind them. Indeed, academic studies have been made about the extraordinarily efficient system of various means of transport, but normally involving a train, that collect the meals in layered tins in the morning and then return them empty in the afternoon, and I occasionally include them in a case study in my course at SOAS. But Ritesh Batra’s feature film “The Lunchbox” (which I saw at my local Genesis Cinema in Stepney Green this afternoon) starts with the nice conceit that one delivery of tiffin, made with special care by a wife worried that her husband is no longer interested in her, gets delivered to the wrong person, an insurance claims clerk who is a widower on the verge of retirement. The same mistake happens day after day and the two start sending each other increasingly intimate notes in the tiffin tins, even playing with the idea of eloping together to Bhutan. I shan’t give any more of the plot away, but all the acting is superb, not least Irrfan Khan as the widower, Nimrat Kaur as the beautiful but frustrated wife and Nawazuddin Siddiqui as an irritatingly ingratiating office trainee. There are some lovely little in jokes redolent of Indian society, such as the wife’s auntie living in another flat upstairs who communicates entirely by shouting out of the widow or lowering things in a basket, and there is a delicious bit of role reversal of “Eve teasing”, the all-too-common fate women travelling on crowded trains and buses in India experience of having men press their bodies against them; in this film, it is the man who gets groped on his commute by a fat, toothless old crone. There are none of the song and dance routines that characterise so much of Bollywood; instead, it is a meticulously designed and executed social drama centering on a universal phenomenon: the bitter-sweet sensations of an impossible love.