Some stories are made out of moments. These moments can happen to you at the most routine places: on streets, at your work desk , at the railway station. You don’t give them any thought and they float away unnoticed into oblivion. You absolutely fail to realize the extra ordinary story these seemingly ordinary moments hide, until you watch a movie like The Lunchbox. Because that’s exactly what this movie is about. It’s an extra ordinarily beautiful fabric delicately woven out of very ordinary moments.
There are two kinds of movies: One, that you watch to forget reality ( Bollywood is dominated by these), the second, you watch to face reality (we quickly classify them as art movies). The LunchBox is the third kind: the one you ought to watch to enjoy reality. This movie offers a peek into 2 very real lives that, at first , seem un-heroic and plain boring but gradually give way to strong protagonists who have a subtle story to tell: A story about the immense strength of hope.
Mr Sajan Fernandis ( Irfan Khan ) is a middle aged widower all set to take a voluntary retirement from his routine job of keeping accounts at a government office. He is assigned an enthusiastic trainee, who , except for his fake degree and a Dubai stint, has nothing much to boast of. But his zeal to survive, single-handedly forces the reticent Mr Fernandis not only to teach him his work but even interact with him outside work. On the other hand, Ila (Nimrit Kaur), a bored and neglected housewife, who finds a companion in a faceless aunty who lives upstairs, is a mother of a school going girl. Her only respite: Cooking. Three random characters in a mundane premise, and you start wondering if at all any story can be made out of them.
A series of notes are exchanged when one of Mumbai’s dubbawalas, by a rarest of the rare mistake, delivers Ila’s lunchbox to Mr Fernandis instead of her husband. A mistake that allows these two characters to share their secrets, fears and hopes with each other .We all at some point, have felt that it’s much easier to share our secrets with a complete faceless stranger and Ila goes ahead and does exactly that . She benefits from Mr Fernandis’s eye-glass of experience, while he, in turn receives delicious food everyday, the fragrance of which, soon starts pervading all over his jaded life.
It’s a story which talks directly to your subconscious through subtle moments. A hardened Sajan Fernandis, shows his tender moments: the small gasp when an auto driver tells him of a woman committing suicide: The apprehension in his eyes when he reaches delicately for the lunch box on his table, the relief when he does the math of her being alive. His returning zeal towards life jumps right up on the screen when he declares to the trainee Sheikh that he has a girl friend named Ila. Those brief moments where he gives himself the indulgence of thinking he could start a life with her, tug at some deeper level. And when he gets cold feet because of being offered a seat on the crowded train, on the premise of being old, you literally see his briefly soaring confidence coming apart.
There are some emotionally violent moments in this movie that gets stuck with you. The ugliness of old age, which chases Sajan back to Mumbai, finds a very strong expression in his co- passenger’s wrinkled fingers that rhythmically tap on the tray table in the train. It’s eerie and makes Sajan realize the importance of his rest of life, that he has been so eager to throw away. That is a moment of climax: He has to choose: To give his life a second chance or to turn slowly but surely into the tapping fingers in front of him. Not surprisingly, he chooses life and rushes back to find the dubbawala who brought him Ila’s lunchbox.
The other scorching scene is when Ila’s mother confesses that all she can think of after her husband’s death is how hungry she feels. That’s the moment of climax for Ila: Like, Mr Fernandis, she has to make a choice too: whether to wait for her indifferent husband to die so she can think of fulfilling her most basic needs or to start tending to them right away.
She has been planning to run away from this life since she finds out her husband is cheating on her, but doesn’t act on it. After being dejected at Sajan not turning up to meet her , which she had boldly proposed in her note, she makes her choice too. She decides to stop compromising. Her flight to Bhutan with her daughter, a fluid idea which had been trying to find a form, sometimes in her mind, sometimes through Mr Fernandis, now takes a shape of it’s own. It is no more an idea: It’s a decision which has been taken. The movie ends with Sajan, travelling towards Ila’s house and Ila preparing to move to Bhutan. We don’t know whether they would meet and I think we are not supposed to.
What we are supposed to know is that both of them have finally given up on compromise , a fact that has been the central anchor to their life till now. They have replaced the tyres of compromise with brand new ones of hope. And that is the extra ordinary message of this seemingly ordinary story. That life is essentially a choice. If you settle with it, you merely survive. But If you fight it, you may learn to live.