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Cannes Film Review: The Lunchbox

May 22, 2013

By Reem Saleh

It’s always exciting to learn that friends or colleagues are making films and succeeding. The whole DFI office was thrilled to learn that our ex-colleague Ritesh Batra, formerly part of our education department, had his feature debut selected for the Critics’ Week at Cannes.

Batra pitched his project three years ago during the 2010 edition of the Doha Tribeca Film Festival. People reacted positively and the memory of Batra’s presentation remains vivid. Now, at last, we got to watch the film we’ve been looking forward to.

During our interview with Batra, he describes the film like this: ‘A delivery mistake connects a housewife to an older man in the dusk of his life and a relationship begins between them through notes in the lunchbox. It’s really the story of fantasies and reality and how tangible fantasies can be.’

‘The Lunchbox’ is an olfactory and culinary journey that awakens the senses through an innocent relationship. Ila (Nimrat Kaur) is a neglected wife who tries to break the cold relationship she has with her husband through cooking. Meanwhile, Saajan Fernandez (Irrfan Khan), a lonely widower, has forgotten how to smile, let alone live. He is as systematic as the financier job he’s been doing for more than three decades. The delivery mistake brings Fernandez the best meals he’s had in quite a while, and Ila is surprised when there are no leftovers. She continues cooking for this stranger who appreciates her efforts. The relationship grows subtly, through letters delivered in lunchboxes that become an addiction for both characters, awakening a little spice of life that makes every day valuable.

The lunchbox is the film’s silent protagonist, the surprise that carries meals and letters. Cooked with great care, the food is never immediately consumed. Saajan takes his time savouring what Ila has prepared for him, eating very slowly, every bite inducing happiness. Every mouthful suggests a story and a growing hope, as suppressed memories and feelings rise to the surface. In this therapeutic coincidence, Ila and Saajan find the switch that reminds them of their life priorities.

The film flows beautifully, enough to grasp every bite, every thought and feed our imagination – and using the travels of the lunchbox to tour the city of Mumbai, bringing about another perspective on life. Khan and Kaur catch our attention from the very first scenes with great performances. It was overwhelming to see audiences react after the film with a standing ovation. The film is eligible for the Caméra d’Or – the festival’s prize for best first feature – so we’re hoping to have an update on ‘The Lunchbox’ at the end of the week.

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