A multi-course, home-cooked meal prepared by a loved one in the morning, then delivered to your office desk in time for lunch makes my tuna salad sound pretty sad. But since 1890 this is a how many Indian businessmen eat their lunch every day.
Thousands of tiffins (multi-layered lunchboxes) are hand-delivered by dabbawallahs (lunchbox delivery men) to office buildings across Mumbai without the use of modern technology. After lunch, these are cleaned, collected and returned to the correct home every day without error. It’s claimed that dabbawallahs make less than one mistake in every six million deliveries – rain, hail, shine and no matter the political climate. In 2010 Harvard University completed a study on this epic feat of human engineering and logistics and Forbes awarded the dabbawallahs a 6 Sigma performance rating (a term used in quality assurance if the percentage of correctness is 99.9999999 or more). However The Lunchbox (2013) tells a story of that one in six million that goes astray.
Ila is an accomplished home cook trying to get the attention of her distracted husband through her delicious lunches, in the hope of rekindling their love and reconnecting – after all, the way to the heart is through the stomach.
But the delivery mix up sees Ila’s daily tiffins go to Saajan, a grumpy, solitary accountant close to retirement who seems to find little pleasure in his life of routine. What unfolds is a strangely unique and heartwarming relationship, where the pair shares their inner secrets, hopes and dreams through notes passed inside each lunchbox.
It’s possible to feel alone in a noisy, overpopulated, chaotic place like Mumbai. But food has a special power that brings us together; Ila and Saajan’s story is told in such a beautifully sweet, melancholy way tied in with the message of no matter how much you plan, “sometimes even the wrong train can take you to the right destination”. What I love most about this film is that you never quite know what happens in the end, the conclusion you are drawn to depends on how you see life, so it’s really up to you. Are you a half-full or half-empty tiffin kind of person?
Food on Film: Episode 5
The Lunchbox (2013) Written and Directed by Ritesh Batra
Good for those who enjoy
The notion of food is the way to one’s heart
Scene to look out for
The cafeteria scene where Saajan is looking forward to his daily highlight – his tiffin and letter from Ila – only to be interrupted by a colleague who wants to join him. Saajan then acts surprised and confused by the letter hidden in the flat breads. Smooth, Saajan.
We rate it
4 out of 5
More Food on Film Episodes
Episode 8: Soul Food (USA)
Episode 7: Chocolat (USA)
Episode 6: Eat Drink Man Woman (Mandarin)
Episode 4: That Sugar Film (Australia)
Episode 3: Big Night
Episode 2: Babette’s Feast (Denmark)
Episode 1: Tampopo (Japan)