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-[Film Reviews]-, Hindi Indies, SOUTH ASIAN CINEMA

‘The Lunchbox’ (2013): Review

lunchbox poster

Directed by: Ritesh Batra || Produced by: Arun Rangachari, Anurag Kashyap, Guneet Monga

Screenplay by: Ritesh Batra || Starring: Irrfan Khan, Nimrat Kaur, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Denzil Smith, Bharai Achrekar, Nakul Vaid, Yashvi Puneet, Lillete Dubey

Music by: Max Richter || Cinematography by: Michael Simmonds || Edited by: John F. Lyons || Country: India, France, Germany || Language: Hindi, English

Running Time: 105 minutes

The Lunchbox is the sort of Indian film that typical film buffs or film festival cinephiles are most likely to see. It’s little different than your usual dysfunctional-family/quirky-misfit dramas churned out monthly in North American film circuits, akin to the filmmaking styles of Sam Mendes’ American Beauty (1999) or Deepa Mehta’s Elements Trilogy (1996, 1998, 2005). As such, anyone who’s actually familiar with mainstream South Asian popular culture will find little of interest or excitement here, and quite frankly, I don’t blame them. Irrfan Khan gives the 500th or so solid performance of his career (I’m guesstimating here…) and his supporting cast is commendable as well, but the screenplay and direction of the entire film around them are derivative at best.

the-lunchbox-film

Kaur reads a message from Khan, where most of the development between them takes place through voiceovers. See where this is going yet?

I went into this movie expecting a certain kind of easily watchable but ultimately forgettable narrative, and that’s exactly what I got. The Lunchbox, like those aforementioned Western critical darling productions, is a film that’s tailor-made for film festivals and artsy award circuits, as well as for self-proclaimed artistically minded film snobs to enjoy at their local independent theatre, but little else. The fact that this movie played at my local college-town art theatre but Haider (2014) did not both amuses and pisses me off to no end.

The Lunchbox follows the story of two emotionally wounded, lonely, lovesick souls who stumble across each other through sheer coincidence and communicate through handwritten letters. A mix-up occurs when one housewife Ila (Nimrat Kaur) tries to send her husband daily homemade lunches through Bombay’s famous dabbawalas delivery system, but her package keeps getting sent to an office worker named Saajan Fernandes (Khan) by accident. Kaur is trying to rekindle a rapidly dissipating marriage by way of her man’s stomach, and Khan is a widower who ignores his coworkers and spends his night alone looking longingly at his neighbors’ happy families through their windows. You see where this is going, yet?

To first-time feature-film writer-director Ritesh Batra’s credit, both Kaur and Khan have acceptable arcs and Khan’s friendship with his replacement (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) is cute, but again, everything here comes across as hopelessly pandering and formulaic. Nothing is inherently wrong with formula so long as the narrative formula under question is executed well or has something meaningful to say; the problem with films like The Lunchbox and its Western counterparts is that most of them are so hopelessly boring and ridden with cliches despite pretentiously claiming to be so rebellious and cliche-free. The story of an Indian wife ignored and unappreciated by her husband is well-worn territory, as is the dysfunctional family and emotionally wounded old fart who finds support through newer, younger friends, as is the pen-pal/anonymous letter-relationships, and The Lunchbox has absolutely nothing new to add to the formula, nor does it execute this tried-and-true story particularly well.

Jesus, it feels as long as a Bollywood blockbuster at times because it’s so freaking slow! Something like Dilwale Dulhania La Jayenge (1995) feels as long as it is because it’s over three hours long, but it’s also fun and entertaining and reminds you that you’re still alive and watching a movie. Conversely, The Lunchbox is less than two hours but feels nearly twice its length because nothing invigorating or dramatic happens during the entire movie. Listen to me and listen to me well, young, up-and-coming independent filmmakers: You do not need giant explosions and constant CGI-violence in your movies to create cinematic excitement! There are other ways to make a dramatic, exciting movie :/

lunchbox

Easily the best part of the film is the budding relationship between Khan (right) and his new coworker who’s meant to replace him (Siddiqui, left).

In other words, if you love serviceable but passable, overall boring films that don’t have anything meaningful to say (i.e. most independent dramas ever made, regardless of nationality), I’m sure you’ll gush over this and recommend it to all your book club friends. If, on the other hand, you’ve seen a critical indie film darling or hundred, you can take a pass on this and not miss much. I’m just so tired of so many of these films being made year after year and having psuedo-highbrow film critics and movie-buffs buy into their pretentious hype; at least no one who goes to see Transformers: Age of Extinction (2014) is lying to themselves about what a great artistic experience it is —- at least they’re honest about the film they’re seeing and not living in denial.

People swept up in the unearned artistic snobbery of films like American Beauty or Boyhood (2014) or The Lunchbox make me think of one thing in particular: Bullshit professional “wine-experts” or wine connoisseurs who pretend they know more about booze than the rest of us and think that there’s actually a significant difference in quality between, say, $750 Bordeaux wines and $35 New Jersey brands. As it turns out, wine-tasting is junk science and most of society’s definition of food-quality has to do with brand labels, socially accepted snobbery, and pretentious bandwagoning. It’s time that fans of indie or “art”-films recognized this analogy and stopped kidding themselves. These movies are not that good, people, and they certainly aren’t inherently superior to what’s playing in mainstream Bollywood or Hollywood theatres every weekend. At least those movies are exciting, and last time I checked, “excitement” was a good thing.

———————————————————————————————————————————————————————-—————-

SUMMARY & RECOMMENDATIONBatra’s direction lacks any sense of energy or introspection whatsoever other than to establish that his two leads are lonely. The story crawls at a snail’s pace for most of its run-time.

However… The Lunchbox develops its characters well, and Khan and Kaur give good performances. The premise itself is cute enough and makes for a semi-heartwarming, if predictable climax.

—> NOT RECOMMENDED

? Excitement is not a dirty word in cinema, nor does “artistic” mean boring or dialogue-heavy. On the plus side, those lunch pales are adorable.

About The Celtic Predator

I love movies, music, video games, and big, scary creatures.

Discussion

6 thoughts on “‘The Lunchbox’ (2013): Review

  1. Go on, get it off your chest! I sometimes feel guilty for not liking a ‘critically acclaimed’ film, but that’s only the ones I bother to watch. There are so many Oscar/Cannes/Sundance winners I look at and think that sounds absolutely terminal. What a pity the Lunchbox has Irrfan Khan in it because he’s one of my favourite actors in the world (I remember discovering him in a Usual Suspects remake-rip off called Chocolate and wondering who is this guy?)

    And as for wine tasting: those c***s are up there with food critics for the title biggest worthless professional parasites in any walk of life award. I did a coupl of blog posts by a fictitious food critic called Anders Merrycorn and had a couple of likes from chefs. Still not sure if they got the joke. “We were near euphoric by the time the frites a maison arrived in their hand woven baskets. Those Nepalese farmers really know how to craft a good table ornament and one wonders what they could do with gravy boats.”

    Chris

    Posted by theopeningsentence | January 31, 2015, 4:52 am
    • I’m sorry, I just could not hold my tongue any longer — it was never something I was ever any good at anyhow 😛 . These critical darlings continue to bore me to tears year after year, and the fact that they get such rave reviews from critics without fail, and nobody on the fan or press side ever questions, let alone is even remotely aware of these obvious “indie” formulas, cliches, and questionable proclamations of artistry and self-expression they endlessly spout is SO irritating.

      Like I said, Michael Bay and most of his movies may be full of shit, but at least he’s upfront about that. That’s more than I can say for these “arthouse” movies.

      As Mike Stoklasa of Red Letter Media said: “I don’t like melodrama, but I’ll take melodrama over really bad, corny acting and flat scenes…”

      *Drinks $12.99 bottle of Cabernet….

      Posted by The Celtic Predator | February 8, 2015, 8:14 pm

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