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Monday, March 31, 2014

The Lunchbox

An Indian story of food, longing and loneliness

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Ila, a young Mumbai housewife, tries to stimulate the unresponsive appetites of her husband by cooking a splendid set of dishes and sending them by bicycle courier to his office for lunch. When the courier delivers her delicious meal to the wrong man, the prospect of a new life gradually opens.

The Lunchbox may sound like a recipe for a mildly amusing Hollywood “chick flick,” yet the film by Indian director Ritesh Batra is a smart, funny and bittersweet story amidst the dead-end lives of his country’s lower middle class. Ila’s husband is an uncommunicative working stiff whose off hours are spent with his smartphone. Ila begins corresponding the old-fashioned way, in handwritten notes, with the accidental recipient of her lunch, Saajan, a frosty man counting the days until retirement. A middle-aged widower, Saajan stares from his window into the home of a family having dinner. In adeptly edited crosscuts, his loneliness is mirrored in the uncomfortable silences of Ila’s supper with her husband.

The Lunchbox is bilingual (English is India’s lingua franca) and splendidly visual. When Ila is cold-shouldered by her husband, her disappointment registers on their bedroom mirror. Much advice (along with recipes) is proffered by Ila’s unseen comic relief aunt, who communicates by shouting from the open window of the upstairs flat. Food, loneliness and longing are The Lunchbox’s themes, along with the relentless passage of time and opportunity.