There has been a huge trend as of late in Hollywood to remake a popular foreign film and set it in America. Sometimes it works and it even has its benefits -- more people become aware of the story because of it. However, its not applicable to all foreign movies, and a perfect example of that is Ritesh Batra’s “The Lunchbox.” The story owes its heart to the culture of India and it is not something that can just simply be transplanted.
“The Lunchbox” sees a young wife, Ila, and a retiring claims worker, Saajan, bond over notes to one another as Mumbai’s famously efficient delivery service mixes up the lunchbox she originally meant to send to her husband. Through their letters they offer support, hope and comfort.
Ila and Saajan are both in need of something when the film begins. Ila’s relationship with her husband is not good. Saajan is being forced to retire from his job and is alone after the passing of his wife. The letters serve as an avenue for them to express themselves in a way they cannot verbally. They can be brutally honest, they can say things that may embarrass them, they can openly dream with each other.
The performances from Irrfan Khan (Saajan) and Nimrat Kaur (Ila) are riveting in their minuteness. The actors do not convey their character’s emotions through the dialogue, because often what they are saying is non-consequential, motions through their day. It is the their reactions, Khan’s giddy attitude when he receives a new note, or Kaur’s contemplation at his response that says more than any bit of dialogue.
It is a sweet and charming movie that chooses to take its time, with subtlety its biggest asset as it lets the journey of these characters happen naturally and never feels abrupt. There is one instance where it strays from that a little, but it is portrayed so wonderfully it is easily overlooked. Shaikh, the worker replacing Sajaan, tells him that sometimes even the wrong train gets you to the right station. With what unfolds in the story that is the closest thing to what a high school kid would put down as theme in a book report. It is effective though in summing up the story and is repaid at the end of the film.
Now, why something like this could never be done in Hollywood is not simply because America doesn’t have a lunch delivery service like this, it runs much deeper than that. It is the busy nature of Mumbai, the crowded trains and buses, the communal relations, the relationship between a husband and wife. “The Lunchbox” depends on all of that to be the film that it truly is. You can’t simply cut and paste the story and have the same effect.
That’s why “The Lunchbox” is worth seeing, because it is a rare unique perspective that we don’t get to see. To paraphrase Shaikh’s anecdote: this may not be the type of movie that you’d usually see, but it will give you something that you are glad you found.
(This review first appeared on lenoirauteur.com)