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Reviews - The Lunchbox

The Lunchbox

Reviewed By Ian Payne

The Lunchbox
The Lunchbox
You can tell a lot about a country by its attitude to lunch. Nowadays in the UK there is pressure not to lunch, to each a sandwich at your desk and show the boss that you are on with the job. In France and Spain there is a more relaxed tradition of a long meal possibly followed by a siesta. In Mumbai however, lunch is underpinned by an amazing system that picks up lunchboxes (elaborate stainless steel towers called dabbas with compartments for rice, marsala, vegetables and chappatti) from the kitchen door and delivers them, somehow, via bike, train and rickshaw to the desk.

Ila is a young mother whose husband’s mind (and often his person) is elsewhere. She embarks on a culinary charm offensive that aims to fill his dabba with such wonderful delights that he will return. She is aided and abetted by Auntie in the flat upstairs, who is never seen but is Ila's one and only confidante, lowering spices and chillies down in a basket and dispensing advice through the thin floors.

The dabbawallahs never make a mistake but somehow the lunchbox ends up on the desk of Sajaan,(played by Irrfan Khan, seen in Slumdog Millionaire and Life of Pi) a cantankerous widower, approaching the end of his 35 year career in a mind numbing bureaucratic job.

When it becomes clear that Ila's husband hasn't received the intended feast, she send a note to the unknown recipient, hidden amongst the chapattis. What follows is a touching correspondence between two lonely people that develops from a commentary on the food to some soul-baring revelations that couldn't be offered to anyone but a total stranger. The fantastic meals that Ila continues to prepare now take second place to the notes hidden within the steel confines of the dabba.

Sajaan's world is turned upside down, as his outer shell is pierced not only by Ila's curried confessional but also by the eager Shaikh – the young lad that he is supposed to train to take over his role and who is in need of a father figure. Sajaan faces an impending lonely retirement. Ila is desperate to leave an unfulfilling relationship - can there be a happy ending?

The Lunchbox is an engrossing film and as far away from the clichés of Bollywood as you can get. The sights and sounds of Mumbai are captured superbly – the smells and tastes we can only imagine.

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Keswick Film Club won the Best New Film Society at the British Federation Of Film Societies awards in 2000.

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