Love, Longing and the Lunchbox

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LunchboxThe Lunchbox has a profound statement to make about the curse of loneliness

RABIA ALAVI

Loneliness is our personal emotional baggage – huge and unacknowledged. Often associated with failure, it is a phenomenon extremely common in today’s fast-paced world where society is self-absorbed as it tries to find means of making more money – and faster.

People turn to various social media web sites for distraction. Yet eventually, they just end up feeling worse, with the mindset of being a failure re-enforced, as Facebook shows them that everyone except for them are well settled in life.

I watched an Indian film called The Lunchbox recently.  It is an exquisitely-directed attempt at defining the city that is Mumbai, and the tiffin box phenomenon that carries home-cooked lunches to thousands of workers every afternoon. But basically, it is all about loneliness – scathing and all-consuming emptiness in a city that is full of life.  And while I’ve never been a movie buff or one to review films and all, The Lunchbox certainly had me hooked from the word go. The film has a profound statement to make about the curse of loneliness.

The Lunchbox is highly recommended for those who cannot empathize with, or understand, how beautifully people around them carry on with their empty lives, making painstaking efforts not to let the loneliness show – but only if you are willing to be unconventional about the storyline.

At a time when e-mails and instant messaging options have all but taken over as communication tools, the story relies on old-fashioned letters to carry the message across – an epistolary as it is technically called.

Yet loneliness is an issue that is never addressed until a mistaken delivery of a lunchbox sets in motion a regular exchange of letters between the two protagonists – a lonely widower and an unhappy housewife trying in vain to spice up her married life, played by the gifted Irrfan Khan and the promising Nimrat Kaur.

As the two begin to exchange memories, dreams, regrets and the void that engulfs them in the series of notes sent through the tiffin box everyday, an unexpected (and unconventional) bond of friendship — and perhaps love — forms between the two.

Their interest in their present is renewed, and they start to dream about the future again. Eventually, there comes a point when their realities begin to be overwhelmed by fantasies – fantasies that the protagonists and viewers alike seek fulfillment in.

That is where the strange beauty of The Lunchbox lies. A plain and simple love story at the heart of it, the film does not show the two solitary souls meet. While they both loosen up and find direction and bearings because of this bond, the open-ended closing of the film leaves you wanting more. The emptiness must give way to fulfilment, and the protagonists must come together eventually, you hope.

But the story is an important lesson in never losing hope or giving up on your dreams too, for the female protagonist learns to let go of her inhibitions and find her own self at the end of the film.

She makes brave decisions, for her little daughter and herself – resolving to set out into the world and seek contentment. A line in the film is the best summation of all that this film tries to tell us: ‘Sometimes even the wrong train can take us to the right destination’. If the film makes you want to seek out your own little bits of happiness, then it has delivered its message.  The film has a fuzzy, heart-melting feeling to give you through the two-odd hour duration. The famous spirit of Mumbai couldn’t have been captured better than this.

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