I have long wanted to write of anthology films; they deserve honorable mention for the qualitatively different cinematic experience they provide. I believe they sensitize the viewer to the director’s skill, among other things. But that will have to wait, since I want to give it the respect and research it commands.
On today’s menu I have The Lunchbox, delight to the discerning palate.
For one, I caught it first-day-first -show and that gives me a junkie’s high. Next it had two of my favourite actors – Nawazzudin Siddique and Irrfan Khan. Some may have forgotten that the two of them also feature in Paan Singh Tomar, where Irrfan played the lead and Nawaz, a crucial sidekick Gopi Jadav who plays Judas to Irrfan’s not-so-Jesus. That’s what I adore about Nawazuddin. His supporting roles are like the unseen foundations – you remember the character, and forget the actor.
In Lunchbox, he is Shaikh – a loud, street-smart go-getter. He is willing to butter the better side of the bread; he blithely calls himself an orphan because his mother tells him that it will get him more sympathy and better jobs. But slowly, the idealistic Saajan ( Irrfan) influences him – he becomes steadier as Saajan begins to fly on the wings of the blossoming lunchbox romance. Irrfan’s micro-expressions are the piece-de –resistance of this delightful film, which is based on the simple premise of the sterling Mumbai dabbawallahs delivering the wrong lunchbox for a full month.
Ila ( Nimrat Kaur) is a simple housewife displaying middle class behavior, clearly a carryover from her maternal home. Her daily routine, and Saajan’s as well, is played out several times and we begin watching them, and the lunchbox, with almost voyeuristic anticipation. But the story cleverly keeps sex off the table, so we are forced to focus on the emotional needs of the two people.
This simple story does not have a dull moment thanks to the skilful editing. The camerawork is uncomplicated-mostly handheld camera. I love the way Irrfan in a crowded train or in a crowded office is made the focus of attention, without actually blurring the background. Ditto for sound design – ambient sounds are discerned, but not overpowering. The dialogue is delivered in the manner a person would speak to himself – and so you listen!
Some scenes stand out. Ila and her husband watching TV while having a lovingly cooked dinner – the husband stares at the screen and she engages with her child. Her diffident and clumsy attempt at initiating intimacy is met with an insensitive comment about alu-gobi causing gas; he walks past her, inadvertently brushes against her bosom and then walks dismissively away.
And finally, the art detailing! People, places, things, actions – all just how they should be! A large flat screen TV speaks of the comfortable finances of the couple; the cramped flat tells the story of Mumbai’s real estate world. The boring honeymoon salwar kameez reveals the lower middle class moorings of the girl .There are many others – I wouldn’t want to spoil it for you!