The Lunchbox begins with the iconic Mumbai local trains and ends with Mumbai’s famous dabbawallahs. In between, the film makers take us on a journey of laughter, love, and life. A lunchbox delivered to the wrong location connects two lonely people: a soon-to-retire accountant and a young housewife. The housewife, Ila, soon realizes the tiffin intended for her husband has reached someone else. She sends a brief note that begins an old-fashioned pen-pal relationship. The pen pals share letters about their lives, their hopes, their dreams. Eventually, the two set a face-to-face meeting, but fear and doubt intervene to send the movie to an unexpected conclusion.
Critical reception for The Lunchbox was very positive. Most critics expected the film to be nominated as India’s entry for the Best Foreign Film category for the 2013 Academy Awards. When the committee chose the Gujarati film, The Good Road, instead, a great controversy ensued.
If I could choose any film to represent my Mumbai, I would choose The Lunchbox. From the ubiquitous dabbawallahs to the complex nature of Indian social relationships, the film spans so many aspects of the beauty of the city I call home. Yes, the premise of the film, that a dabbawallah mistakenly delivers a lunchbox, is far fetched, but at least the dabbawallah is consistently wrong, which still speaks to the efficiency of that amazing network.
One of my favorite scenes is the chili peppers scene. In India, revenge is a dish best served spicy hot.
For foreign audiences, a few aspects of the story require explanation. The “aunty” who lives upstairs from Ila is most likely not her aunt, but simply an older neighbor. “Aunty” is used by Indians as a familiar honorific to older women. If the woman were really Ila’s aunt, Ila would use a specific Hindi word, like mami, to describe the relationship. The dabbawallahs are a unique Mumbai phenomenon. Nowhere else in India do businessmen have their lunches delivered. Many local restaurants offer a monthly dabba service where they will cook your daily meal. In the movie, Saajan uses the service because he has no one to cook for him at home.
Ultimately, The Lunchbox is a movie about relationships and intimacy. The film is uniquely Indian in its perspective, but is easy for all audiences to relate to.