The lunchbox of the title is actually called a tiffin carrier. They are very popular in India. They’re made of metal to keep the food warm and have several containers placed on top of each others. In Mumbai there is an elaborate delivery system. In the film The lunchbox for instance, Ila carefully prepare for her husband a warm meal and puts it in the tiffin box. Sometime in the morning a delivery man (also called dabbawala) comes on bike to pick up the box, then takes the rail train or other means of transport and delivers the box to Ila’s husband. A caterer can also provide this service. Saajan, an accountant, uses a caterer. One day Ila’s tiffin gets delivered to Saajan who likes the food so much that he wipes it clean. When Ila finds out she writes a note and leaves it under the pita bread. He also sends a reply that the food was too salty. But he ate everything, she snaps back. They start writing about their daily lives. Ila suspects that her cold and distant husband is cheating on her. She is lonely as the only people she talk to are her aunt and her mother. ‘Auntie’ is her neighbour and they yell to each other across the courtyard (we never see her). Mother is taking care of her ailing husband. Ila has a daughter. Saajan is also lonely. A widow who misses his wife terribly. As a result of his unhappiness he has become grumpy and unapproachable to his co-workers. Close to retirement he is not too pleased about having to train his replacement. Every day Saajan awaits for not only the food but the notes. He sends back the box with notes or letters telling her about himself. When his trainee, Shaikh, sits at his table he offers him some food and they become the best of friends. There is even a possibility that Ila and Saajan could meet. The lunchbox is a breath of fresh air. We’ve seen other films where people writing to one another developed a sence of longing but not like that. This is a beautifully, delicate film. Irrfan Khan and Nimrat Kaur approach their characters with attentions to small details so that the change we see is gradual. From every departments the film shines. Of note the sound mixing and editing is also part of the beauty. It makes the streets of Mumbai alive with vitality and excitement. Just like the film.
The lunchbox (Dabba)