The Lunchbox – A critique and review

Warning: This post contains spoilers
Yesterday I went to the movie theater and watched The Lunchbox.
I would like to share with you my opinion, things that I liked it about it, and some insights I got from watching the movie.


The actors

As you know, this movie was filmed in India and the main actor is Irrfan Khan (Life of Pi and Slumdog Millionaire). By watching the trailer I have good expectations about the film, but not as great as Life of Pi or Slumdog Millionaire. However, Irrfan Khan did a great job on his role. He performed as Saajan Fernandes, a man with not many facial expressions and who basically lived a life in automatic pilot and absent from his surroundings. Irrfan Khan was good at showing a gradual change in the life and feelings of Saajan. His performance was credible. He doesn’t overact or exaggerate his role. I was delighted to see how even in Saajan’s happiest moments, Irrfan Khan controls the measure of his expressions to keep it real and natural for a character such as Saajan.


Nimrat Kaur in her role as Ila, a housewife longing for appreciation and recognition from her husband does also a good job, but her character limits how much she can do. She performs a woman who is also not very expressive and keeps her feelings somehow to herself. In a phone conversation with her mother, when receiving the news of Ila’s father passing, she sounds immutable, it is only when she hangs up when she cries, but hidden from the camera. Her painful and happy moments seem to be inexistent or imperceptible from the outside. She tends to be observing and contemplative. She questions things and keeps things to herself.


I have been to more than a dozen countries and I love cultures; I’ve been wanting to go to India, but I still haven’t been there. This movie made me think of my friends from India, the food I have eaten and pictures I’ve seen from there. It is true that many movies tend to refine or exaggerate reality, so I cannot tell how much is true and how much is the other, but regardless of that, I enjoyed the scenes about the people, trains, couple of streets, and homes in Mumbai. It was interesting to learn about the lunchbox delivery system. I enjoyed the moment of being able to travel at least for the time I watched the movie to a new and different place. The story was interesting, but if they hadn’t done it in India, something would have been missing.

Cinematography and light

I was amazed by the lunchbox trip from Ila’s home to Saajan’s desk. The shots looked slightly chaotic but matching the ups and downs and changing of hands of the whole delivery process. The shot of the train and the buildings in the background seemed natural. There was nothing to exalt or praise nor anything to denigrate or exaggerate; it was just a natural shot. I enjoyed the shots of the main actors when the light lit their faces. Many movies are dark and you cannot really see all their facial details. Here you can see it and even natural imperfections. I liked the frequent shots of Ila in her kitchen. The natural light coming from the window on the background with the camera lights on the opposite side did a good job so we can see a nice halo or glow delineating her face profile.

The food

There are several movies about food and many of them show huge feasts, elaborated presentation of dishes, and frequent food display. But in this movie, although food takes a prominent role, dishes are prepared in a more simple and humble way. It comes in metal containers, it is prepared in a middle class home. Even though the simplicity of its presentation, the few dishes we see are well elaborated, colorful and interesting. These shots on the food are good enough to wake up my craving for Indian food. Those stuffed eggplants, the curry, the roti being made on the stove, the meatballs and other colorful dishes transformed the ordinary experience of having lunch into an extraordinary and memorable one. The story wouldn’t have been the same without this food.


The point of the lunch scenes is about Saajan been impressed by the food he eats. These scenes wouldn’t have been the same if we, the audience, had to imagine that Saajan’s lunch meals were exceptional. Successful stories have to show not tell the facts. We don’t want someone to tell us what things are, we want to see them by ourselves and make our own conclusions. This is why the food shown in the film is good enough to realize that we are talking about a delicious and exquisite experience. Irrfan Khan does also a great job tasting the food. His role is that of a character with “stoic” or inmutable facial gestures. He is good enough to perform a moment of bliss within the constrains of such inexpressive character.

The insights

The exchange of letters between Saajan and Ila is what creates and builds the relationship between the two characters. The content of those letters may seem trivial and ordinary at first, but there are a couple of times when those simple and trivial lines end up with something more meaningful and profound. A good example is Saajan’s letter when he writes how he found some old TV comedy shows and watched them for hours. The story seemed at first that it would be something irrelevant and trivial. Watching old comedy shows? But then he goes deeper and talks about looking for something else. He recalls years before when his wife was still alive how he would usually be outside glancing once in a while to the TV and see the reflection of his wife laughing over and over. He was looking for that reflection again, he wished he would have kept looking. It is interesting how our lives are filled with ordinary and trivial things. A simple chair where we sit, a glass, a word, a smell, a routine or anything that we are linked to could become something nostalgic, emotive, meaningful and more. After some years we will then look back and then we may feel inclined to wish we have more of those moments that we overlooked or just experienced unconsciously. Life is to be lived, we are not meant to just exist. And for example, how many things have we truly appreciated in just a day, just today?


In the restaurant scene, Saajan goes to meet Ila, but when he sees her; he realizes how beautiful and younger she is. His low self-esteem blocks him; he remains there insecure and with fear just watching from a distant table. Saajan thinks of himself as an old man, and the fact that some people start offering him a place to sit on the train doesn’t help. Once on a train leaving Bombay, he sits in front of an old man whose hands are old, wrinkled, and affected by arthritis. It seems that this is the point where Saajan realizes that he is not really as old as he think he is. It seems that this is the moment when Saajan decides to not leave Bombay and face Ila. With this I think of how so many times we have a perception of ourselves based on our surroundings or the people who is around us. I wonder how many times we make selfish and unilateral decisions (when Saajan decided to leave, Ila didn’t have a chance to accept him or reject him). I wonder how many of us have refrained from asking someone out because of the limitations we face or the insecurities we have about ourselves. I also thought about how is that our self-esteem and/or the perception we have about ourselves can be a major factor to take or lose opportunities not just in romantic relationships, but to get a job, start a business, participate in contest, apply for a scholarship, learn something new, etc.


It is also interesting to think about how much we change when there is someone meaningful in our life. Saajan’s monotonous routine and life seemed to be the same before and after Ila’s letters. Work, commute, and home. His life was almost insipid with nothing else to wish for; empty and without dreams for tomorrow. Ila’s appearance in the life of Saajan through letters was what changed his attitude towards life even though the routine kept being the same. Saajan began to smile. Life can change a lot when there is someone especial. However, in the other hand, it is interesting that sometimes we are the ones that begin to fantasize without taking actions and/or without knowing how much of what we think is actually true or plausible. Saajan asked Ila if he could go with her to Bhutan. He asked this without having seen her yet and based on the little he knew about her through a couple of letters only.


In regard of time, Saajan wrote that he became an old man without noticing it. Regardless of whether he is old or not, because as I mentioned before we sometimes label ourselves based on what we see around us, we compare ourselves with others and we use those external factors to measure ourselves, but again regardless of whether he is old or not, it is interesting how is that the passing of time and the years is something we don’t think much about it during our childhood or teenage life. We live each day without thinking about it; we don’t realize that life is just one and that if we get to become old, we will realize that we would have almost finished our life. It is then today the time we should ponder and see where we are and where we want to go to and/or with whom we want to be when we become old, if such stage of life is granted to us.


Another interesting quote from the movie is “sometimes the wrong train can get you to the right station.” When I heard this phrase, I didn’t pay enough attention. I thought it meant something like, if you take the wrong train, somehow this train is going to change its route and take you to the right station, or in other words, to the station you intended to arrive to. However, it is more than that. It is not about expecting that our wrong paths will be fixed automatically and take us to where we wanted to go. What it means is that sometimes the destination we had intended to reach is the wrong one, not necessarily the train. It means that by taking the path that leads us to a very unexpected destination is the right one because at the end, the right station, the right final destination is not what we had originally planned. Thus the results of certain decisions we make won’t be as we wanted or expected; these decisions could end up taking us to something better or to the right thing, you name it, a new relationship, a new school, a new career/job, and more.


What I expected to see more were the ways and interpretations of seeing life under the traditional and dominant religious influences in India. The Lunchbox
doesn’t have much of it, but what it is worth mentioning is that Saajan must have been a Christian since he went to a Christian graveyard to pay some respect to his wife. Ila must have practiced Hinduism, her sign on her forehead (not necessarily exclusive of Hinduism) and her husband’s name, Rajeev (from Hindu origin) suggest so. Shaikh, Saajan’s assistant and friend, was definitely a Muslim who lived in Saudi Arabia and spent all his life there working and praying only. It is interesting how these characters from different religious backgrounds are connected in the story.

The Ending

The end of the movie is an open ending. I liked how the film begins and ends with the scene of the food delivery men. At the end, Saajan seems to be finally decided to face Ila in person. However, the movie ends right there leaving many open alternatives. In my opinion the end was appropriate, but perhaps the director could have given a little more hope by ending the movie with the camera shooting Ila’s door. A few hesitant moments after, Saajan’s hand could have appeared knocking the door. A few words from the inside could have been heard and then Ila could have opened the door and right at that point where Ila looked towards the camera as if it were Saajan, right there and just before any reaction, the credits could have started rolling. But the director, Ritesh Batra, leaves the movie with a little more uncertainty. Will Saajan be able to make it to Ila’s house? and if so, will he make it on time? Ila’s plan was to leave for Bhutan that same day when her daughter came back from school and Saajan was traveling on the train with the food deliverers already after lunch so time could be an issue. And assuming Saajan were on time, would he still have the courage to knock the door? What would it happen if they met? Will Ila accept him?


If the movie ended with Saajan and Ila going to Bhutan together in such a spontaneous moment, the film would probably lose strength and some logic. Most of the story was based on the relationship that was born from a small number of letters and zero personal interaction. Where in those letters can we find any sign of love for the other? Most of the words we see in the exchange of letters were self-centered, they were personal concerns and some introspections. We don’t really know much about Ila’s willingness to accept Saajan. And from the moral point of view, would even this be the right thing? What about Ila’s (weak, but still) marriage and daughter? The end we choose for this movie can give us an introspective glimpse of how we react and what we believe.


For some the complete end would be Saajan been overpowered by insecurity and fear again or arriving too late when Ila is already gone. For others the end would be a happy one. For those who like seeing the ending with all details (plain and clear with zero doubts) the end as it is now must have been a torture and annoying experience. These type of spectators would probably have not liked that they had to put some of their own thoughts, imagination and interpretation. And for those who like happy endings, it would probably have been Saajan and Ila many years later telling the story to their grandchildren of how Saajan and Ila met and how their lives together was a happy one in Bhutan, and while there, Ila kept cooking for the rest of her or his days.


I enjoyedThe Lunchbox. It is not a movie that I will put in the top of the top, but it is still a good one. I felt inspired and I wish there were more movies that induced to insightful conversations, have clean language, and are free from inappropriate scenes as this one. If you want to watch it, you can buy it online and download it legally and immediately here: The Lunchbox onlineAlternatively you can also order the Blu-ray and DVD here: The Lunchbox [Blu-ray + DVD].
But I have written enough. I think it is your turn to let me know what you think. How did you like The Lunchbox? Share your opinion in the comments section below.


Image credits:
“The Lunchbox.” Amazon., n.d. Wed, 03 nov. 2014.