I've been raving to friends and family about The Lunchbox--one of the best films of 2013--since Christmas. It's almost Easter and, finally, I'm able to share this irresistible treat with Boise. So think of this modern classic as one of those Christmas presents that you hid a little too successfully.
The first thing you need to know about The Lunchbox is that you absolutely must cancel all of your plans for the two hours following your visit to the movie theater, because I promise that you'll be making a beeline to the nearest Indian restaurant to recount some of your favorite moments of this film--I double-dare you to resist.
To appreciate The Lunchbox (and there's much that requires your appreciation), you should first know about the dabbawalas, an army of dabba (lunchbox) deliverymen, a weekday tradition that has been repeated on the streets and trains of Mumbai for more than 120 years. Every morning, more than 5,000 dabbawalas appear on the doorsteps of Mumbai homes where they pick up hot meals--often stacked in a series of tins--to be delivered to (primarily) men, who have already arrived in their offices spread across a city of 18 million residents. The dabbawalas are, quite often, illiterate but use a complex coding system of colors and symbols to deliver the lunchboxes in the labyrinth that is Mumbai. In 2010, Harvard University analyzed the dabbawala delivery system and concluded that only one in 1 million lunchboxes is ever delivered to the wrong address.
But one is all it takes for a good story and, in this case, a great film.
"Honestly, I started out to make a documentary on the dabbawalas," writer-director Ritesh Batra told Boise Weekly at the September 2013 Toronto International Film Festival. "But I ended up with this."
And "this" is pure magic. Through the journey of a lunchbox, we meet two people from two different worlds, yet they share the experience of finding hope in the most unexpected quarters.
"I stayed away from [Mumbai] for many years after I moved to New York," Batra told BW. "And by the time I returned, so many things looked different while so many others never changed."
One of those things was the unsettling truth that an urban pace such as Mumbai's is like a conveyor belt, moving people and their lunches from place to place, its forward motion never allowing its residents to stop and ponder their dreams or what became of them. But, on the rarest of occasions, that same metropolis can be benevolent. And it takes a one-in-a million lunchbox to cause a small miracle in the big city.
On paper, The Lunchbox may seem like a familiar convention: an serendipitous happenstance triggering a life-changing moment. But second-guess the convention of The Lunchbox at your own peril. This is a very special story about two lives that have never and may never (sorry I'm not going to spoil the ending for you) cross paths. Young housewife Ila (the gorgeous Nimrat Kaur) lives in a conservative Hindu enclave, while nearly-retired Saajan (Indian superstar Irrfan Khan) lives in an old Christian sector of the west Mumbai suburb of Bandra. But neither fits into the present times. Ila, struggling with a contemporary yet traditional marriage, tries to add some spice to the relationship through her cooking. And Saajan, a lonely, self-contained insurance accountant, is a prisoner of his days. That is, until one day a lunchbox appears at his desk.
And that's all of the story that I want to share with you. I don't want to ruin the surprise of this delicious present that has been waiting for you to open.
Oh, and one more thing: Merry Christmas.