Movie Review - The Lunchbox

Nawazuddin Siddiqui (left) and
Irrfan Khan in "The Lunchbox"
Irrfan Khan (Slumdog Millionaire and Life of Pi) stars as Saajan, an accountant of 35 years in India who is a widow and a month away from retiring. His boss hires an accountant to take his place, a young man named Shaikh. Saajan has to train Shaikh and get him ready for the transition.

Presumably, every day since Saajan's wife died, he has been getting his work lunches made by a nearby restaurant. The restaurant uses a delivery service that not only takes food from the restaurant but also from housewives who want to send their husbands hot lunches at work. The day that Saajan meets Shaikh, the delivery service confuses Saajan's food from the restaurant with food from a random housewife named Ila.

There is no explanation as to how the deliveries were confused, or how no one notices besides Saajan and Ila. It becomes obvious as to why Saajan doesn't correct the mistake. The food he gets from Ila is fantastic and a million times better than what the restaurant made. Yet, Ila's reason for not correcting the mistake is murkier. She changes the menu for what she cooks for her husband Rajeev as a way of seducing  him or getting him to notice her. When she realizes that the delivery service has messed up, she doesn't correct things immediately and it's confusing as to why.

Nimrat Kaur co-stars as Ila, a bored housewife and mother of an elementary school daughter. She wants to spice up her marriage to Rajeev, played by Nakul Vaid who totally ignores her, even when she's wearing sexy clothing and is obviously hitting on him. We never see her, but Ila speaks to a woman neighbor who Ila calls "auntie" and who helps Ila change her cooking menu. The intention was to make an aphrodisiac for her husband.

When Ila realizes the delivery mistake, she abandons the aphrodisiac idea. Her food could still be an aphrodisiac for her husband, but she'll never know because she doesn't even try to fix it for him. What little we get from Rajeev, it feels as if it makes sense that she gives up because he seems to have totally given up on her. Because of Saajan's reaction to the food, Rajeev could have been turned around, but Ila never gives him a chance. She never seems to openly address their marital issues either.

Ultimately, the film doesn't care about Ila and Rajeev's relationship. For the most part, it only cares to show Ila as someone confined to the kitchen. Aside from Auntie, Ila is emphasized as having a pretty lonely existence. This is something that she shares with Saajan. The film shows him as having a pretty lonely existence too.

Somehow, the two recognize that mutual loneliness and begin a correspondence by writing paper notes that each leaves in the small, metallic cans that are part of the container in which the food is delivered. It's unclear why they don't use email or exchange phone numbers, except that a part of them must realize that this correspondence is inappropriate if not wrong and the paper notes maintain a proper distance, while also an old-world intimacy.

The movie becomes nearly two hours of watching Irrfan Khan eating food, sitting on a bus going to and from work and him reading Ila's letters. While that might seem boring, Irrfan Khan's performance is so fantastic that watching him eat is riveting. There's also a very funny moment on a crowded bus where he believes he's being groped by an elderly woman that the look on his face without dialogue sells so brilliantly.

The relationship between Khan and Nawazuddin Siddiqui (New York and Peepli Live) who plays Shaikh is also brilliantly realized as well. Shaikh is at first annoying and an ingrate, but, as the movie goes along, it becomes obvious why he is the way he is. Shaikh latches onto Saajan and makes the older man a surrogate father, much to Saajan's chagrin but his acceptance and eventual affection is perfectly performed.

Four Stars out of Five.
Rated PG for thematic material and smoking.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 44 mins.


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