The Lunchbox was released in Turkey on the same day as Chennai Express. I just had the opportunity to see the film as it is being shown in only one cinema in my city. The film was brought to Turkey because it was screened at the Cannes Film Festival.
I was informed recently that technically Chennai Express is not the first film to arrive in Turkey. Barfi arrived apparently, I neither saw it or heard about it. But it would not be incorrect to say that Chennai Express is the first mainstream Bollywood film to arrive in Turkey. Chennai Express was purchased by a Turkish film distributor and screened in five cities (a total of 13 screens) so far, whereas Barfi and Lunchbox were/are shown in Turkey by Semaine de la Critique Cannes as an independent film in only three cities.
The Lunchbox is a romantic film starring Irrfan Khan and Nimrat Kaur. The film is about Ila (Nimrat), a housewife who hopes to find a way to her husband’s heart with delicious food and Saajan (Irrfan), a widowed government employee who is about to retire. One day, the meticulously prepared lunchbox prepared by Ila for her husband is accidentally delivered to Saajan instead. When Ila realizes that someone else is receiving the lunchbox, she includes a short letter with her next preparation. Saajan responds to the letter. The two converse through letters daily and what follows makes up rest of the story.
The Lunchbox is an interesting film in that it doesn’t seem to have an ending. I’m not talking about an unconventional ending. That’s something we see often in Tamil films, the leaders of unconventional endings in Indian cinema. Words cannot describe the desperation and frustration I felt at the end of the film Sadma, where the train on which Sridevi was a passenger took off leaving Kamal Hassan behind. I could not take my eyes off of that railway platform, waiting and waiting for Sridevi to come back. I will never forgive the filmmakers of Sadma for that ending! But this is not the case with Lunchbox, the film is as though it was cut off right before the final climax. So we don’t know what happened. It’s definitely a unique way to finalize a film, sort of leaving the ending for the audience to complete with their imagination.
The film ends with Ila reading a letter where she talks about going away that evening with her daughter. And Saajan is last seen traveling with the lunchbox delivery guys. It is obvious that he is trying to find the way to Ila’s house because he changed his mind. The film ends there. I have convinced myself that Saajan reached Ila’s home on time, before she left and they started a new life together. But I do wish that they had added one more scene showing that Saajan reached, perhaps Ila opening the door and coming face to face with him. But we’ll never know what really happened.
As interesting as I found the film, I do have some reservations about it. I think the idea of using a lunchbox as a sort of carrier pigeon is great. But I have questions about the connection shared between Ila an Saajan. Although the two only seem to talk about totally random things, they convince themselves that they could have some sort of future together. Of course until Saajan backs out because he fears he’s too old to be with someone so young. And I think that Ila is as unrealistic as a housewife could get. She doesn’t have the courage to face her husband about his cheating, but she has the courage to take off with her daughter to Bhutan of all places, and that too because she had heard in school that it’s a happy place.
On one side, we have a man who is criticizing his age and credentials to make a younger woman happy with little to no basis, and on the other side, we have a woman who is willing to go off with a stranger to get away from her current life. This is the surrealism of The Lunchbox. Although the film is composed of the day-to-day incidents of these “everyday” people, there is no doubt that no one in their right mind would fall in love with someone and be willing to run off with them because of a few random conversations hidden beneath rotis.
On the other hand, we see the simplicity of human emotions in this film. We see that it actually doesn’t take much to make people happy. A random note, a caringly prepared meal, a little bit of courage and the possibility of something beautiful happening. Irrfan Khan portrays his emotions as Saajan with perfection. His every gesture and facial expression speaks a million words. I can’t forget the childish smile that comes across his face when he reads Ila’s letter where she asks to meet him. The way his face lights up while slyly reading those letters, the excitement of someone out there wanting to converse with him, get to know him and cook him meals is worth watching.