RogerBW's Blog

The Lunchbox 15 July 2014

2013, "Dabba", dir. Ritesh Batra, Irrfan Khan, Nimrat Kaur: IMDb / allmovie

An old-fashioned epistolary romance, conducted via notes passed in a lunchbox. Plot discussion, which may be considered to include spoilers, follows.

Every day, young wife and mother Ila makes a hot lunch for her husband, and it's delivered to his office in central Bombay through the Dabbawala system. For whatever reason, the lunches start going instead to Saajan, an accountant on the verge of retirement. They start to correspond via notes sent in the lunch containers.

That in itself would have made a pleasing short film, an exploration of the different forms that loneliness can take and how it can turn into friendship and love, but it's not enough for feature length. To bring it up to 100 minutes, side plots are added: Saajan's asked to train his replacement Shaikh, and gradually comes to like him, while Ila comes to terms with the impending death of her father and her husband's infidelity. But they're well-integrated, becoming subjects for the correspondence and informed by it.

It's a very slow-moving film by many standards, and large parts of it are conducted as monologue while either Ila or Saajan reads notes sent by the other. And yet it never drags. Both of the principals are islands of calm amidst the constant noise of the big city.

I watched with English subtitles to the original soundtrack, which is mostly in Hindi but drops to English from time to time.

The one downside and weak point, as far as I'm concerned, is the inconclusive ending. When you've asked me to spend all this time getting emotionally involved with these people and caring about whether their lives turn out all right, damnit, I want you to tell me that they do. Or even that they don't. Not that they might. Mind you, I am perhaps more sensitive than most to this sort of thing, and even I enjoyed this film.

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  1. Posted by Owen Smith at 12:44pm on 15 July 2014

    I thought it was an American disease to always want a firm ending to a film. In Europe we're usually more accepting of an ambivalent ending.

  2. Posted by RogerBW at 06:46pm on 15 July 2014

    I don't insist on a happy ending, as American test audiences are notorious for doing, but I do like an ending. Also a beginning and a middle. Preferably in the traditional order.

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