Movie Review: Lunchbox (Dabba) featuring Irrfan Khan
When you think about Indian movies, it’s impossible to not think about the colorful excess of Bollywood. Tired stories and hammed acting covered up with elaborate song and dance scenes and exotic locales. Ritesh Batra’s The Lunchbox is a wonderful example of the subtle changes happening in Hindi cinema.
The story is simple enough. A lonely widower on the verge of early retirement accidentally receives a lunchbox from a lonely wife stuck in a loveless marriage. She’s been convinced by a faceless ‘Auntie’ in the apartment above that a great meal will help her back into her husband’s heart. When she gets the now empty lunchbox back and realizes that it fell into the wrong hands, the hands of the lonely widower; she continues to cook for him and the two start exchanging notes about their lives. A connection grows and you are left with a ‘will they or won’t they’ scenario.
The performances are strong. Irrfan Khan, playing the widower, brings a prickly intensity to his role. His Saajan Fernandes wanted to leave the world long ago but still frustratingly finds himself trapped in a day to day routine. And Nimrat Kaur, on screen alone for much of the film, finds the aching soul inside a woman with so much to give that finds nothing in return.
Mr. Batra has crafted a quiet, touching film punctuated intermittently by the commotion and insistence of modern India. He deftly shows you the complicated relationship tradition and progress have in India without taking away from the story.
The Lunchbox, while definitely worth the watch though, is important for vastly different reasons. It is the first Hindi film since 2001’s Oscar nominated Lagaan (the Rocky of Indian films) to be distributed by Sony Pictures Classics and is part of a much larger investment by Sony pictures in the Hindi film industry.
And Irffan Khan is not the most famous Khan in the Hindi film industry (Salman, Aamir, Shah Rukh…you can brawl it out,) but he is easily the most recognizable Khan to international film audiences due to Life of Pi and The Amazing Spider-Man. So an international distributor chose Ritesh Batra’s The Lunchbox because it was the most marketable film available. A relatable story, an almost European sensibility in its presentation, and a familiar star that audiences worldwide appreciate.
Critics can deride Bollywood for its near cartoonish filmmaking at times, but there is also the threat of losing your identity as a filmmaking culture. The best French films are always indelibly ‘French’ and if I had to send any filmmaker’s work to another country as ‘American’ film, without hesitation I would send something by Spike Lee or Woody Allen.
This movie perfectly walks the line of modern sensibility and traditional India. And even more deeply traditional Indian filmmaking. There are no song and dance numbers, no exotic locales, but The Lunchbox has the same yearning heart as any love story Bollywood ever told.
About Krishna: I‘m 34 now, but for the last 10 years, whether it be for my college newspaper, my hometown daily, or my own blog I’ve been trying to convince people what/what not to listen to and watch. I have opinions…on nearly everything. And you might not always agree with me, but I’ll make damn sure its entertaining enough to read. So get ready for the ride! You can see more at unkut.tumblr.com and if you want to tell me how you agree with me, or more likely how you think I’m completely off base, you can blast me at @kthinakk on Twitter.