Review: THE LUNCHBOX (2013) [Bradford International Film Festival 2014]

As the Media Museum doors opened last night for the 20th Bradford International Film Festival once more, film fans and media types (I think GIRL ON FILM can count as one of them now, right?) bustled in from the rain to be greeted by a glass of wine and a cheery band. It was these many little touches that made the evening a special one and launched the programme so delightfully. Speeches from the Museum director Jo Quinton-Tulloch and the festival co-directors Tom Vincent and Neil Young made the appropriate thanks to the right people and reminded us just how much hard work goes into creating the festival year after year.

The opening film itself The Lunchbox (2013), was a triumphant choice to kick start the festival. Staring Irrfan Khan (who, we learnt as we sat down, had just won another award for his performance in this film) and Nimrat Kaur as two equally lonely inhabitants of Mumbai who begin a touching correspondence after Saajan (Khan) accidentally receives the lunchbox intended for Ila’s (Kaur) husband at work. Saajan is so thrilled with his unexpected meal that he sends a note of thanks back and so begins a journey of self-discovery for two unassuming and world-weary characters.

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The film is full of charm (and as the audience demonstrated last night, full of laughs) and filmed with such vibrancy that the smells and colours of Mumbai exude from the screen and awaken your senses. Watching Saajan consume Ila’s food is both mouth-watering and compelling. Ila and Saajan’s days are transformed by the ritual of preparing food and sharing it with love. Lured by her cooking skills and her unique letters accounting her daily life, Saajan is brought back to life, leaving his stale existence as simply a ‘widower’ behind. Without giving too much away, Ila too, is transformed.

The film is filled with journeys both literal and personal. Saajan’s journey to and from work act as a marker for his blossoming familiarisation with life once again. Ila watches the Dabbawalla man who distributes her home-cooked food from her window. She oversees her daughter’s journey to school from her apartment and receives care-packages from her Aunt who lives upstairs via pulley (the interactions between these two characters are also a joy to behold). Though her journeys are more confined, the impact of her food magnifies the significance of the importance of food to engage. Whereas before her culinary efforts where ignored by her inattentive husband, Saajan’s appreciation brings Ila’s world to life and allows Ila to venture literally and emotionally beyond the street where her lunchbox is attached to the delivery man’s bicycle for transportation.

The Lunchbox is a wonderful film and it is easy to see why Neil Young personally selected it for the opening night after first seeing the film in Cannes. A joyful, heart-rendering drama and plenty of belly-laughs to boot, The Lunchbox is a perfect example of the sophisticated and crowd-pleasing cinema which is coming out of India outside of the Bollywood machine. Director Ritesh Batra brings out fantastic performances from his leads and a special mention has to go to actor Nawazuddin Siddiqui (who looks curiously like an Indian Tony Curtis) in a brilliant supporting role as Shaikh, Saajan’s bumbling yet well-meaning work colleague.

There’s another chance to see The Lunchbox during the festival on Monday 31st March and it is certainly a must-see addition to the programme.

The festival is now underway, here’s to more wonderful discoveries!

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