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The film is an India production whiched was produced and filmed in Mumbai. Though India is typically associated with Bollywood filmmaking more than anything else, The Lunchbox (original title: Dabba) is hardly at all like the films many associate with the country's filmmaking styles and is one of the more richly directed and acted efforts of the entire year worldwide. The style is complex and smart throughout.
The central story focuses on a lonely housewife named Ila (Nimrat Kaur) who is trying to win her husband's affection (as he pays her very little notice at all) by cooking him a wonderful lunch. The typically highly efficient Mumbai lunch delivery system somehow mistakenly switches the lunch meant for her husband with that of a total stranger -- a man unknown.
Saajan Fernandes (Irrfan Khan) is the recipient of that specially prepared lunch. Saajan receives Ila's lunch and loves the food and savors every bite. He even goes to the typical place where he receives his lunch order to comment on how good the food was that day. He is in the process of being replaced at his job by a new and younger employee and is being forced into retirement so the lunch is being cancelled and is only to last him a few more weeks. What happens over those weeks is something that has a profound effect on his life. As Saajan learns from another later in the film, "a wrong train is sometimes what is needed to get to a right destination".
Saajan is alone. His wife had passed away many years ago and when first introduced we see his loneliness (even as he has to eat his lunch all by himself). The lunch was a highlight for him in his otherwise seemingly bleak day. When Ila's husband returns home that same day she realizes he was not the one to eat her special lunch and that he did not even notice that he had received a different person's lunch - even though he had a special lunch box that he should have been able to tell apart. Disappointed, Ila discusses the lunch with her auntie and decides to cook a special lunch again but for the stranger who appreciated her efforts. She sends it off the next day. And soon, a note by Saajan is included about the food. An exchange of notes begins to occur as she continues cooking for this stranger - and they begin to learn about each other over their daily exchanges of notes through the lunchbox that Ila prepares. Rather than e-mails or twitter or facebook, Ila and Saajan discover one another and become friends over the daily lunches. However, the film has to ask: where will this newfound friendship lead these characters?
The film is a dramatic effort focused primarily on these characters and their relationship to one another. The exploration is richly textured and not flashy. The approach is both beautiful and mellow while also allowing time for the audience to respond to and appreciate the growing connection between Saajan and Ila. The performances by Kaur and Khan are impeccable. Everything seems so nuanced and delicate in their exchanges. Even the way Saajan eats, carefully placing each element of the lunch around him, and savoring every bite is a joy. Simplicity is sometimes best and The Lunchbox is a perfect example as to why: it's the storytelling and performances that matter most here and they both shine triumphantly.
Ritesh Batra has crafted an ingenious screenplay and directed it with a degree of expertise more commonly expected from experienced filmmakers and not those who are making their feature filmmaking debut. Although Batra has made a few successful short films prior to making The Lunchbox, this film marks a gigantic leap forward and cements him as a brilliant writer and director to watch going forward. From the breathtaking shots of Mumbai to the delicate and character-based directing style that allows room for performances to shine, Batra gives a ace effort here that is worthy of applause and greater accolades. The Lunchbox is simple but so effective that it is one of the most intriguing, ambitious, and creative films of the entire year.
The 2.40: 1 original theatrical aspect ratio of the film is preserved on this 1080p MPEG-4 AVC High Definition Blu-ray presentation. The quality of the transfer is immense with good colors, detail, clarity, and depth. The cinematography is clean and efficient with a good modern look which fits the storyline. This gorgeous-looking film has received a high quality transfer and encode by Sony Pictures Classics.
The 5.1 Hindi DTS-HD Master Audio presentation is a strong one which has occasionally strong ambiance and immersion. When rain and wind is heard in the film, the surrounds are opened up with great precision. The bustling of the city-life is also well reproduced here. This is a quality surround presentation that makes the film all the more enjoyable to experience. Dialogue and music are also clear, clean, and easy to enjoy and understand.
Subtitles are provided in English, English SDH (for the deaf and hard of hearing), and French.
This release includes a commentary track with The Lunchbox writer/director Ritesh Batra.
The Lunchbox is an intelligent character-based drama with wonderful performances from Irrfan Khan and Nimrat Kaur. The first-time feature filmmaker, Ritesh Batra, is someone to watch as the future of this filmmaker is undoubtedly a bright one. As one of the highest grossing Hindi films in US box-office history, The Lunchbox surprised audiences and became a success stateside. For those who have yet to discover the film's tasty entree it's a good time to dish in and enjoy the bountiful, creative feast this film provides. You may even find that you want to come back for seconds.
Neil Lumbard is a lifelong fan of cinema. He aspires to make movies and has written two screenplays on spec. He loves writing, and currently does in Texas.