Some actors carry an entire movie on their shoulders. Irrfan Khan carries The Lunchbox on his face. His beautiful, supple, gentle, forlorn, intelligent, bereft face.
The Indian actor, known this side of the Atlantic for roles in Life of Pi and Slumdog Millionaire, also executive produced the film. Nice to see an actor who not only knows his own strengths, but isn’t afraid to dial them down. Spare on dialogue and soundtrack, The Lunchbox is an exquisite meditation on waiting.
Nimrat Kaur is Ila, a young wife and mother who cooks her aloof husband’s lunch every day and relies on the dabbawallahs, a system of delivery men, to bring it to her husband at work. Only one day it gets mis-delivered to Khan’s Saajan Fernandes, an insurance adjuster. Widowed and very much alone, he toils all day until the exquisite meals start arriving at his desk piled with books that look like they were borrowed from Hogwarts, igniting his appetite and imagination.
The two lonely people, human specks in the sea of Mumbai’s humanity, embark on a tentative correspondence, trading letters in the lunch tins. An attempted meeting dissolves when Saajan shies away at the last minute. Ila begins to suspect her husband of having an affair. Saajan, meanwhile, does his best to keep everyone at bay, failing only when a persistant colleague, the orphaned Shaikh, worms into his life.
The Lunchbox sometimes reminded me of the saddest fairy tale of them all, the Little Match Girl. Life has passed her by and now, impoverished and freezing to death, she looks through a window to watch a comfortable family eating their Christmas dinner, only her matches keeping her warm as she lights them one after one – until she dies. Likewise, Saajan, his evenings quiet and lonely, leans over his balcony watching his neighbour’s noisy family enjoy their supper, only the hot smoke of his cigarette moving around him.
Two parallel lines never meet, going off into the sunset like separate worlds. But when one or both of the lines are nudged inwards by mere degrees, they eventually hit each other and cross, creating new shapes and vertices. The Lunchbox is a film with the patience to ride two long but not quite parallel lines. We are left to trust that they eventually meet.
The Lunchbox is in general release.