The Lunchbox: easily digested, with the right amount of spice and full of local flavour
There might be a bit of vanity involved in this, even if I never would admit it to you. A fling for Bollywood makes your film buff persona a little bit more interesting, doesn’t it? You’re not someone who settles for the standard repertoire in theatres. You’re prepared to go long way to find new and exciting movies. You’ve got a taste of your own.
In reality my attempts to approach Bollywood have been so and so. A few years ago I went to an Indian film festival in my city and watched three films ranging from bad to so insufferably horrible that I had to use all my willpower not to flee halfway through.
I’ve seen a couple of Indian movies that I’ve liked. Monsoon Wedding and Bride & Prejudice are both charming, full of colour and dance and irresistible joy. But I’m not sure they count as “real” Bollywood films, since the directors have careers in US respective UK. Probably I can’t take credit for it.
Smells and tastes like India
Now I’ve seen another movie, The Lunchbox, with at least a partly Indian origin. (IMDb says it comes from “India/France/Germany/US). I’m honestly not sure if you rightfully can categorize it as “Bollywood”. They speak Hindi in it, but also English, swapping back and forward without any explanation. Perhaps that’s the way they speak in Mumbai, I have no idea. There’s no dancing. Don’t they dance in all Bollywood movies?
In any case this film takes place in Mumbai and every inch of it smells and tastes and feels like India, the way I imagine it (I’ve only been in Goa, so my knowledge is limited to say the least). It’s a film about food, love and living your life at its full potential. It’s the cinematic illustration to the saying “The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.”
I don’t think they ever could make a remake of this, because the whole plot revolves around circumstances that only exist in India, or more precisely in Mumbai. I had never heard of this before, but apparently they have an intricate delivery system for lunch distribution in place there. According to Wikipedia the system “collects hot food in lunch boxes from the residences of workers in the late morning, delivers the lunches to the workplace utilizing various modes of transport, predominantly bicycles and railway trains, and returns the empty boxes back to the customer’s residence that afternoon”. What happens in the film is that a lunchbox by mistake is delivered to a different person than it was intended for. The receiver is a lonely man who turns out to love the cooking of the unhappy housewife a lot more than her husband does and they start to communicate with each other through paper notes in the box.
Glimpses of life in Mumbai
I thought that The Lunchbox was quite delicious. To use food vocabulary: it’s easy to digest, on the light side, but nevertheless rich in flavour. It gives glimpses of life in Mumbai that appear realistic to me. While we never get to see the huge slum area in the city, it’s definitely not a tourist commercial. It gives an image of how middleclass Indians live. Watching it is a little bit like travelling, though it only lasts for an hour and a half.
What also made it enjoyable was also that it’s pretty nuanced and not at all as overly sentimental as some of the Indian movies I’ve seen previously. The connection that is initiated with the wrongly delivered lunchbox is fairy tale-esque, but the movie takes a direction that is more low key and ambiguous than the standard romantic movie.
In short, this is a little gem that I recommend you to see if you get the chance. With all the hamburger movies we have on our menu it’s nice to get a curry once in a while.
The Lunchbox (Ritesh Batra 2013) My rating: 4/5