Thursday, August 7, 2014

The Lunchbox

Summer is definitely not my movie-going season. Whether it’s the idea of being cooped up in a movie theater on a beautiful day or the fact that the movie industry has relegated summer as the dumping ground for every superhero, blow em up/shoot em up action, or raunchy comedy film, I haven’t stepped foot inside a theater since I think May (when I went to see Edge of Tomorrow, which by the way was great). I know I sound like a total movie snob, but the truth is movies aren’t cheap – by the time you add in parking, popcorn and drinks you’re looking at $30 down the drain– and films make it onto OnDemand so quickly nowadays, so unless I’m dying to see something, I exercise restraint and a modicum of patience and wait to pay $5.95 and watch them in the comfort of my living room. With that said, all bets are off during the Fall when I madly scramble from weekend to weekend to stay on top of the great movies I know will pop up on award show ballots.

TV isn’t much better when it comes to quality fare during Summer, so I’ve been gobbling up books lately, but last night I took the time to check out my OnDemand menu and came across The Lunchbox, an Indian film in Hindi with English subtitles that I’d wanted to see and missed at the theater. I am so, so happy that I watched this film. The best word to describe this film is lovely. It was beautiful, poignant, sad and hopeful...and as I said, lovely.

Set in Mumbai, India The Lunchbox uses as the foundation for its tale the city’s century-old dabba wallah service. A fact which I didn’t know, but looked up after viewing the film, is that supposedly some 5,000 delivery men called dabba wallahs hand deliver 200,000 home-cooked hot meals to doorsteps across the city. The Indian-style stackable metal canisters or tiffin boxes travel miles on bicycles and trains, sometimes transferred three or four times, before they make it onto a worker’s desk, and then the empty-boxes are later returned safely back to the home where they originated their journey.

The Lunchbox tells the story of Sajaan (portrayed beautifully by Irrfan Khan, whom you probably know from Slumdog Millionaire and Life of Pi), a lonely widower who works as an account and is planning an early retirement. Sajaan was used to getting the lousy cooking from a local restaurant near his home, but one day there’s a glitch in this century old system and he mistakenly receives a scrumptious meal from Ila, an equally lonely beautiful young woman who had been hoping to win back through his stomach the heart of her cheating and neglectful husband.

Realizing the mistake, the next day Ila sends a note thanking the unknown recipient for sending back the tins empty and for the few brief moments when she’d thought she had actually touched her husband’s heart. The response from Sajaan, a grumpy old curmudgeon who grumbles at the kids playing ball outside his home, is initially short and brusque, but soon the two are corresponding, opening up their hearts and sharing their memories, fears and hopes; making a heartwarming connection of love and friendship that could quite possibly save them both.

I loved this movie. It was perfect in so many ways. The two lead stars never share a scene together during the film, yet like Sleepless in Seattle, the emotions and connection of our star-crossed lovers is no less palpable and like that aforementioned film, as Sajaan and Ila read each note, it’s like magic. You feel their joy and excitement with each new revelation, their heartbreak and fear as they face their own vulnerabilities, and their hope as they dream of a better tomorrow.

The acting was phenomenal. Khan was pitch perfect in his portrayal of Sajaan, convincingly conveying his melancholy and loneliness with a simple pensive gaze or his newfound feelings with a small, almost bashful smile. Nimrat Kaur as Ila is striking, not only in her beauty but the understated way in which she portrayed her character. I didn’t remember to write down the name of the supporting actor who played Sajaan’s replacement and later friend, Shaikh, but he did a wonderful job as well and managed to stand out even amongst the two engaging and talented leads.

Offering a veritable smorgasbord of romance and charm, The Lunchbox is a true gem that enchanted me with its beautiful yet unconventional love story.