It follows a very simple plot. Based around India’s lunchbox delivery service (known as the dabbawalas), a young woman, Ila, expertly crafts her husband’s lunches every day in an attempt to reestablish the spark in their marriage. One day, the lunchbox ends up in the wrong hands – those of Sajaan Fernandez, an older lonely widower at another business. Ila and Sajaan start passing notes via lunchbox, forming a touching platonic friendship in which both vent to, and learn from, each other.
For a film that was first set out to be a documentary, Batra instead produces a fictional story relatable to any audience. After spending a week with dabbawalas, he overheard numerous personal accounts of the deliverymen and chose to transform the experience into a script.
It’s a predictable story of unlikely friendship, but that doesn’t make it any less meaningful. Composed of beautifully framed depictions of life in Mumbai, we get a glimpse at Ila’s struggle to maintain happiness in a land where women’s roles are clearly defined. We also see a lonely man, just weeks away from retiring, finding meaning in new friends and another side of life.
Batra cleverly keeps the story realistic, always adding a handmade touch yet often using clichés that work in his favor. The film was well-received at most festivals, and for good reason – it’s perfect in its simplicity.
Starring Irrfan Khan (Life of Pi, Slumdog Millionaire) as Sajaan and Nimrat Kaur as Ila, The Lunchbox will seem familiar and unique at the same time, leaving you feeling pleasant and with a new sense of perspective.