Food for the soul.
The way to a man’s heart may be through his stomach—but that’s more challenging if his heart is already roaming. Ila (Nimrat Kaur) knows things aren’t going well in her marriage so she decides to spice it up by preparing her husband’s favorite foods for lunch. She puts the items in a multi-tiered metal lunch kit and hands it over to the Mumbai Dabbawala lunchbox delivery service. Unexpectedly, the meal is mistakenly dropped off at the wrong address.
Saajan Fernandes (Irrfan Khan), a widowed accountant nearing retirement, can’t believe how good his lunch tastes. Since the death of his wife he has ordered his midday meal from a nearby restaurant that also uses the lunchbox delivery service. The day after the delicious food, Saajan finds a note from Ila in the tiffin. She explains the meal was meant for her husband. Saajan responds by telling her how good it was. So rather than correct the mistake, Ila continues to prepare food that is delivered to Saajan. And along with the lunch, the pair begins exchanging messages.
At first the notes are very formal and brief, yet as time goes on Ila and Saajan start revealing more about themselves. Ila is very unhappy in her marriage and soon discovers her husband is involved in an affair. Her father is dying of lung cancer and she must offer emotional support to her mother. Saajan on the other hand is lonely and dreading the empty hours of retirement. He has been assigned a young assistant who has managed to bluff his way into the position and is entirely unqualified for the job. After frustrating days at work, Saajan spends his evenings all by himself, sitting on his balcony smoking and watching the happy family next door eat their dinner.
As their relationship grows, the two finally decide to meet. But on the designated day, Saajan fails to show up.
This sub-titled film contains depictions of smoking and relatively minor amounts of sexual content. (It is implied a man is groped on a crowded bus and that another is involved in an affair.) However, the theme of the screenplay centers on unhappy unions, not only Ila’s but also many others that suffer through loveless relationships while caring for sick husbands or choosing suicide as an escape. The only happy couple portrayed in the movie is a young pair who is living together. Laying out the joyless plight of her life, the script carefully justifies Ila’s decision to become involved with another man—even if it is only through the written word. Unfortunately it also makes it seem that most wedded women in India are sorrowful.
Still, The Lunchbox is beautifully made romance, which depicts fresh faces and landscapes. It ingeniously uses letters rather than lots of dialogue to tell the story. As well, it gives North American audiences a look into the everyday dynamics of a different culture and its exotic foods.