Sunday, April 20, 2014

The Lunchbox (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

The Lunchbox

The debut film from Ritesh Batra "The Lunchbox" is a retro throwback to the American films of the 40s and 50's (not to mention Bollywood) in many ways. Yet using such description also limits the film. "The Lunchbox" is stirring, snappy and citric in suspense, certain to keep one guessing at every turn, or in this case with every bite.

Illa (Nimrat Kaur) is an under-appreciated wife. She concocts fragrant and delicious dishes in the hopes of rekindling her husband's heart. The terra cotta and tense husband Rajiv (Nakul Vaid) is self-absorbed and passive to a fault.

By a chance error, Saajan, a melancholic bureaucrat (Bollywood veteran, Irrfan Khan) receives the lunch intended for Rajiv. The small repast doesn't have the predictable mush of cauliflower and Saajan is taken aback. Illa is triumphant, thinking that she has scored a goal into her frosty hubby's heart.

To her surprise, Rajiv merely says the food was fine.

Spurred on by her reclusive yet romantic aunt (only heard as a voice offscreen) Illa creates another salivary seduction.

One that proves spicy.

Saajan responds to the introduction, simply writing that the meal upset his stomach and that he was moved to eat a banana.

A rapid friendship unfolds, driven at first by glib and pithy notes. Wanting to experience fire, Illa puts her mettle into the lusty lunches. In this way, through the tongue and hand, she is appreciated.

Meeting is not an issue. However the two become more and more curious in their short correspondence. Saajan looks forward to the gustatory meetings which are a break from cheerless work and not least, an oasis from the haunt of his deceased wife. The cuisine also extends Saajan horizons, opening up his constrictive Mumbai and making his crushing transit commutes bearable.

These salivary sojourns also make Saajan a more tolerant person. While eating, he is more receptive to the obsequious and needy Shaihk (Nawazuddin Siddiqui). This somewhat taxing and torturing coworker becomes a loyal confidante.

A bubbling satisfaction arises from the subtle and precise performance of Irrfan Khan. He is terrific to watch as we see him melt and change from a stoic cypher---a man who always stands---to a pensive and gentle epicure, lusting for sensation and exile with his victualing vixen that he has yet to meet.

This story pushes and pulls. Mumbai is manic with people, boredom and apprehension.

Lunch remains the colorful respite, in contrast to a routine that stays invariably gray with business and rain.The stainless steel lunch boxes are sealed artillery shells, compartments of possibility or a deck of stacked Tarot cards that point to another life.

Ritesh knows his cinema history. What starts as pure romance, cracks and even curdles, fermenting to an uncertainty and wish-fulfillment, both jittery and heartfelt.

Though the medium of a shared meal, these two pedestrian  characters are put into the realm of a joy that has been much celebrated, used up, thrown, and taken for granted.

The zest of "The Lunchbox" is in whether these two will carry their delectable desire all the way or become blocked and thwarted, either by Ganesh or by their personal "hungry ghosts" and remain simply a mere missive to one another.

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