Following the development of a touching relationship which develops between two strangers, Saajan Fernandes (Irfan Khan) and Ila (Nimrat Kaur), The Lunchbox is Ritra Batra’s tranquil debut feature as both writer and director. The story begins when the lunchbox Ila made for her husband accidentally arrives at Saajan’s desk instead. Saajan is a lonely and introverted office worker whose love of life seems to have died with his departed wife. Similarly, Ila is just as lost; she is stuck in an unhappy marriage in which she is neglected by her husband. In an attempt to once again attract his attention, she tries to cook the most delicious meals possible for his lunchbox with the aid of her eponymous Auntie, who appears only as an off-screen and often humorous voice. Saajan and Ila soon realise the error made by the famously efficient dabbawalas (lunchbox deliverymen) but rather than correcting it instantly, they begin to write notes to one another, providing themselves with an escape from their unsatisfying lives. As things develop we witness the two characters slowly breaking free from their previous existences; Saajan opens himself up to people and the possibility of friendships, while Ila comes to terms with her unfaithful husband and begins to stand up for herself.
The Lunchbox is a calm and somewhat trance-inducing film. It maintains a steady pace and depicts realistic characters in their everyday lives. There are scenes which do not propel the action forward but instead provide insight into the true nature of the characters on screen; we are shown scenes of Saajan commuting or thinking alone over a cigarette; we see Ila playing with her daughter, dressing up for her husband and, of course, cooking. Their correspondence is similarly down-to-earth and human, rather than glossy blockbuster dialogue and the action of the film is within the normality of their lives, creating a realistic, engaging drama.
The performances given by Khan and Kaur are brilliant and allow the audience to connect and care for the characters. You find yourself on the edge of your seat, rooting for them both and crossing your fingers for a happy ending; however, Batra leaves the film open-ended, allowing the audience to create their own idea of how, or if, their relationship develops. This is really the only way in which The Lunchbox could end, as it allows the tranquil and hopeful atmosphere of the film to remain unbroken.
Even though the two main characters never meet in person for the duration of the film, they have provided one another with the support they unknowingly needed in order to take the first step into a new chapter of their lives. The Lunchbox is a heart-warming tale depicting the ups and especially the downs which are inevitable in life, as well as the amazing truth that you never know who you will cross paths with nor how big an impact they will have on your future.