Saajan Fernandes (Irrfan Khan), a middle-aged government claims officer, close on the heels of retirement, spends his lonesome time lighting up cigarettes. He shares his smoking habit through an incident on a letter he sends Ila (Nimran Kaur), a lonely housewife whose dabba which was meant for her neglecting husband goes wrongly to Saajan. She reverts with just an episode that of the death of her relative owing to cigarettes. No preaching, so sermons, nothing and yet it conveys a powerful message, he tries to kick the butt!
Ritesh Batra's The Lunchbox is a collection of such beautiful scenes that convey so much without so much as even passing a dialogue. The filmmaker takes Mumbai's famous Dabbawallahs as a vehicle to spin a romance that hasn't been witnessed in Hindi cinema for the longest time. In the day and age of SMSes, Facebook posts, Tweets and DMs, Batra weaves a romantic tale through letters that's far more realistic and impactful than any relationship of the make-up-break-up generation.
The two haven't seen each other and yet become the closest confidants. Ila who finds a spark in her mundane life thanks to the unexpected error the Dabbawallah makes. The doting housewife who tries searching for her neglecting husband's love in the way he relishes her cooked meals soon chances upon a man who not only respects her but also savours every dabba that wrongly lands on his table.
Saajan, a soon to retire officer is coming to terms with the fact that a young replacement Aslam (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) has to eventually take over. He is unwilling to let go, unwilling to face the emptiness of the days without a job and just then comes across a woman through the letters and her sumptuous cooking that he starts to adore.
Statistically proven the meticulous Dabbawallahs of Mumbai do not err in their deliveries. The addresses are etched in their minds but Batra finds plausibility within such setting and does a commendable job. Not only does he bring out the romance in a hopeless place but also delves into the lives of many middle-class people that dream on to make it big in the Maximum City.
The maker romanticizes even the hectic mundane activities of the local train or bus travel of the people, or the regular 9-5 jobs of even the little conversations between neighbours that strike a chord with you instantaneously.
But if the maker showcases his potential in his debut film itself, the seasoned actors Irrfan Khan and Nawazuddin Siddiqui take it to another level with one of the best performances of their careers. Irrfan's straight-faced; dead-pan look with restrained performance breathes life into his character while Nawazuddin as the hearty and talkative colleague proves to a complete antithesis to Saajan Fernandes.
Lesser known newbie Nimrat Kaur delivers an impressive performance as the middle-class wife staying in a small apartment in Malad East. Her body language to her appearance is all disarming.
Bharti Achrekar's booming voice as ever helpful Aunty is endearing and makes you nostalgic reminding you of her popular show Waghle Ki Duniya.
The Lunchbox to say the least is a rare gem wrapped carefully in a mundane tiffin-box. Ever thought the simplest of things in life could be so charming?