Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...
Watch: Jesse Eisenberg And Kristen Stewart Go On In The Run In Red Band Trailer For 'American Ultra' Watch: Jesse Eisenberg And Kristen Stewart Go On In The Run In Red Band Trailer For 'American Ultra' Tilda Swinton Joins Benedict Cumberbatch In 'Doctor Strange' Tilda Swinton Joins Benedict Cumberbatch In 'Doctor Strange' Watch: Jason Segel Plays David Foster Wallace Opposite Jesse Eisenberg In The First Trailer For ‘The End Of The Tour’ Watch: Jason Segel Plays David Foster Wallace Opposite Jesse Eisenberg In The First Trailer For ‘The End Of The Tour’ The Top 10 Films Of The 2015 Cannes Film Festival The Top 10 Films Of The 2015 Cannes Film Festival 5 Innovative Ways The Michael Fassbender/Marion Cotillard 'Macbeth' Differs From Previous Versions 5 Innovative Ways The Michael Fassbender/Marion Cotillard 'Macbeth' Differs From Previous Versions New ‘Ant-Man’ Photos; Movie May Include More Marvel Cinematic Universe Characters New ‘Ant-Man’ Photos; Movie May Include More Marvel Cinematic Universe Characters Over 30 New 'Jurassic World' Photos, Plus 2 New Clips & Lots Of New TV Spots Over 30 New 'Jurassic World' Photos, Plus 2 New Clips & Lots Of New TV Spots Matt Damon Goes Interstellar Again In New Pics From Ridley Scott's 'The Martian' Matt Damon Goes Interstellar Again In New Pics From Ridley Scott's 'The Martian' Cannes Awards Winners: Jacques Audiard's 'Dheepan' Wins Palme d’Or; Rooney Mara Ties For Best Actress With ‘Carol’ Cannes Awards Winners: Jacques Audiard's 'Dheepan' Wins Palme d’Or; Rooney Mara Ties For Best Actress With ‘Carol’ First Look: Matt Damon As An Astronaut In Ridley Scott’s ‘The Martian’ First Look: Matt Damon As An Astronaut In Ridley Scott’s ‘The Martian’ Cannes Review: Justin Kurzel's 'Macbeth' Starring Michael Fassbender & Marion Cotillard Cannes Review: Justin Kurzel's 'Macbeth' Starring Michael Fassbender & Marion Cotillard Watch: Incredible Vintage Footage Of Audience Reactions To 'The Exorcist' In 1973 Watch: Incredible Vintage Footage Of Audience Reactions To 'The Exorcist' In 1973 Lonely Island Movie Is Called 'Conner4real,’ Targets Justin Bieber & Katy Perry, Adds Sarah Silverman, Imogen Poots, & More Lonely Island Movie Is Called 'Conner4real,’ Targets Justin Bieber & Katy Perry, Adds Sarah Silverman, Imogen Poots, & More Here's The Character Backstory For Doof aka Guitar Flamethrower Dude In 'Mad Max: Fury Road' Here's The Character Backstory For Doof aka Guitar Flamethrower Dude In 'Mad Max: Fury Road' The 10 Most Controversial Cannes Films Ever The 10 Most Controversial Cannes Films Ever New NSFW, Extremely Graphic, Adults-Only Poster For Gaspar Noe's 'Love' New NSFW, Extremely Graphic, Adults-Only Poster For Gaspar Noe's 'Love' The 25 Best Films Of 2015 We've Already Seen The 25 Best Films Of 2015 We've Already Seen The 25 Best Horror Films Of The 21st Century So Far The 25 Best Horror Films Of The 21st Century So Far The 20 Best TV Shows Of The 2013/2014 Season The 20 Best TV Shows Of The 2013/2014 Season All The Songs In 'Pitch Perfect' Including La Roux, David Guetta, Azealia Banks, Nicki Minaj & More All The Songs In 'Pitch Perfect' Including La Roux, David Guetta, Azealia Banks, Nicki Minaj & More

Review: Warm And Charming 'The Lunchbox' An Easy Decision At The Cinematic Takeout Counter

Photo of Kevin Jagernauth By Kevin Jagernauth | The Playlist February 27, 2014 at 6:20PM

The staple of any good rom-com is an original, clever meet-cute, and writer/director Ritesh Batra certainly has a good one for his feature debut "The Lunchbox." The missed connection in this picture that winds up bringing two strangers into each other's orbit is a mix-up involving the delivery of the titular lunchbox. It's a familiar practice in India, with housewives (and restaurants) preparing hot meals in the morning, and through a rather impressive system of trains and rickshaws, they get delivered to their husbands at the office, with nary a mistake. At least until Ila's (Nimrat Kaur) steel, segmented canister of naan and curry winds up on the desk of Saajan (Irrfan Khan). And while you might think you can predict what happens next, Batra takes this rather charming set-up and quietly unfolds a film that is by turns both funny and moving, and a potent reflection on life's disappointments and the strength required to move past them.
2
The Lunchbox

The staple of any good rom-com is an original, clever meet-cute, and writer/director Ritesh Batra certainly has a good one for his feature debut "The Lunchbox." The missed connection in this picture that winds up bringing two strangers into each other's orbit is a mix-up involving the delivery of the titular lunchbox. It's a familiar practice in India, with housewives (and restaurants) preparing hot meals in the morning, and through a rather impressive system of trains and rickshaws, they get delivered to their husbands at the office, with nary a mistake. At least until Ila's (Nimrat Kaur) steel, segmented canister of naan and curry winds up on the desk of Saajan (Irrfan Khan). And while you might think you can predict what happens next, Batra takes this rather charming set-up and quietly unfolds a film that is by turns both funny and moving, and a potent reflection on life's disappointments and the strength required to move past them.

For Ila, she's stuck in a marriage that has stagnated into a familiar, dull routine, with her husband (Nakul Vaid) all but ignoring her presence. Her life, such as it is, now revolves around her young daughter, while the Auntie who lives upstairs—never seen, but heard—offers advice, recipes and spices. Hoping that the way to her husband's heart again is through his stomach, Ila puts all her effort into his lunches, but that effort instead wakes up Saajan from his slumber of solitude. At the first taste of Ila's food, Saajan is more than happy to eat this unintended meal, a pleasant break from the mediocrity served by his regular restaurant. But each day, a new meal arrives from Ila and Saajan's world—which doesn't expand far beyond the office and his private, lonely life at home—at once opens to the tantalizing potential of possibility. The pair start to exchange notes as the thermos-like lunchbox goes back and forth—at first just about the food—but soon they are sharing with each other their deepest stories and secrets that they are unable to share with anyone else.

The Lunchbox

Ila is burdened by the thought her husband is having an affair, while also worrying taking care of her parents, a job that would normally fall to the son of the family, except that he has long since passed. As for Saajan, he's widowed, facing retirement and generally keeps to his curmudgeonly self.  Even the kids on his street know he's not likely to get any balls that fall into his yard. But it's not just Ila who is softly forced into his tightly controlled sphere of relationships, but Shaikh (Nawazuddin Siddiqui), a bright-eyed, almost impossibly enthusiastic new employee who Saajan has to train before he leaves the company. And while it might seem obvious where the film and story will go next, Batra softly but confidently subverts expectation, creating a film that is rich, thoughtful and mature.

While the first and second act of the films follow a familiar rom-com template with two unlikely people falling for each other with comic relief combined with slight moments of dramatic levity, it's when "The Lunchbox" moves into its third act that it establishes itself as something unique. Batra wisely fleshes out those supporting, comic characters, adding depth to their relationship with the leads, with Shaikh's story in particular gaining some impressive resonance as his backstory becomes shaded in. But more crucially, "The Lunchbox" never settles on an easy resolution for Ila and Saajan, opting for a path that's much more true to their journey, even if it doesn't give those seeking something more conventional immediate closure.

Lunchbox TIFF 2

While the tonal shift into the third act is slightly jarring, Batra is able to guide his audience down this ultimately more rewarding path thanks to his actors and his own smart filmmaking. The director gets a wonderfully subtle turn by Irrfan Khan, who wisely underplays Saajan's slow growth. This isn't a man necessarily going through a transformation, but a late lesson in life, and Khan plays each little change and development with small gestures and little choices that add up to a complex character. And Kaur's work as Ila is very good as well, even as she spends much of the picture by herself, speaking to her unseen Auntie and reacting to the notes she receives in return from Saajan, still finding fresh notes each time. Meanwhile, behind the camera, Batra's decisions, which sees him use space and parallel imagery to visually transmit how Saajan and Ila open up during the course of the story, are wise and so deftly employed you may not even notice.

By time credits roll on "The Lunchbox," to call it at a rom-com trivializes what is a far more textured picture. Batra's film is ultimately less about love than about the vulnerability relationships place us in emotionally, and courage required to move past pain, and experience life again after we've been hurt. But served with two fine lead turns, warm humor and a side of paneer, "The Lunchbox" is an easy decision at the cinematic take-out counter. [B] 

This is a reprint of our review from the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival.



This article is related to: The Lunchbox, Reviews, Review, Irrfan Khan


The Playlist

The obsessives' guide to contemporary cinema via film discussion, news, reviews, features, nostalgia, movie music, soundtracks, DVDs and more.


E-Mail Updates