This 2013 film from India was an unexpected pleasure. I watched it thinking I knew the direction the film would take, with a romance growing between an older widower and a younger woman ignored by her husband. Instead, the film explored ideas of connection and loneliness and never tipped into sentimentality.
The story starts with a misunderstanding. Each day, Ila prepares her husband’s lunchtime meal and stores it in special tins for the purpose. It does not go with her husband but is delivered to his desk by a special delivery company. This is obviously a cultural norm that exists in a country where sandwiches are not the staple lunchtime fare for office workers. On one occasion, the meal is delivered, by mistake, to Saajan, a diligent, aloof claims supervisor in an insurance company. He is preparing himself for early retirement but the glimpses of his life show a lonely man, disconnected from the world. He immediately notices the improved quality of the meal. Meanwhile, Ila is disappointed that her husband has nothing to say about the effort she put into the food she thought he would be eating. When it becomes clear that the meal he ate was not the one she cooked, she writes a note to the mystery recipient.
Notes are passed between them and it looks certain that they will find in each other the person to fill the gap in their lives.
The film also has a younger man, Shaikh, who will replace Saajan in his job. Shaikh is an orphan whose impending marriage to his girlfriend has the sensitive social niceties to navigate: at the wedding, he will be alone ‘on his side’ while his fiance will have an extended family with her.
In such ways, the film shows the need for human contact and a sense of belonging. The film works well because the film’s ending seems clear. The direction it takes is all the more pleasing because it is unexpected. ‘The Lunchbox’ is in my hinterland. What’s in yours?