Saturday, September 28, 2013

Frankly, "The Lunchbox" is a bad film and a good arty-arty Mani Kaulish movie

This is not to go against the opinion of so many sensitive people who enjoyed The Lunchbox for its very sensible and sensitive portrayal of middle class individuals caught under the wheels of the metro juggernaut of daily existence in the great city of Mumbai. There is this man Fernandes (Irfan Khan), apparently working in a government or semi-government insurance office dealing with claims files. He is about to retire, so we are supposed to infer, when his boss brings in a Saudi Arabia-returned Shaikh (Nawazuddin) to replace him. And then there is this harassed middle class housewife Ila (Nimrat Kaur), estranged from her husband in a way that does not threaten her marriage, who prepares lunch for her husband, and the lunchbox is handed over to Mumbai's great Dabbawalas. But the lunchbox ends up mysteriously with Fernandes. Soon, Ila finds out that it is going to a mysterious man who relishes her food, and thus begins the gentle communication through letters tucked away in the lunchbox. Ila writes in Hindi and Fernandes in English and we know this from the respective voice-overs as Ila and Fernandes read other's messages. There is tenderness and wit in the silent but eloquent connection between the two. The Shaikh sub-plot is just that a sub-plot which does not add much to the Fernandes-Ila relationship. Why does the film then fail to impress despite good performances by Irfan Khan and Nimrat Kaur? The reason seems to be that there is a stilted tone to their existential agony, each looking for love and meaning in their lives. It is possible that two relatively isolated individuals like Fernandes and Ila can run into each other in an impersonal city like Mumbai, and had they met the loneliness of each would have become more poignant. Fernandes becomes hesitant even when she wants to meet him, and their communications remain vague. We are supposed to feel the pathos of their extraordinarily ordinary existence in the city. It is a half-hearted attempt at cinema verite, true-to-life and all that. It is just that it is done in colour and there are huge production resources behind the movie, at least going by the list of producers. The theme is Mani Kaulish, reminding one of Uski Roti in a way.
There is neither feeling nor poetry nor intensity nor tragedy in the Fernandes-Ila relationship that we find so wonderfully portrayed in David Lean's Brief Encounter. The reason why so many of the present generation viewers have liked the film seems to be due to the fact that there have not been arty-arty movies till in the last 20 years until Tigmanshu Dhulia, Vishal Bharadwaj, Anurag Kashyap, Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra, Farhan Akhtar,Kiran Rao, Gauri Shinde, Zoya Akhtar have come on the scene and flirted with small-budget, sort of realistic, and experimental movies. The present-day viewres have not seen the early films of Shyam Benegal, Basu Bhattacharya, Basu Chatterjee and others. There is much that is vague both in sentiment, plot and the deeper sense of human relationships in The Luncbox. It is a very unsatisfying film because Ila and Fernandes do not confront each other. It is an artistic failure of director Ritesh Batra. My friend has explained that Ila and Fernandes are on the way to meet each other because Fernandes gets on to the trail of the lunchbox through the Dabbawalas. But their absent face-to-face encounter robs the movie of real drama. Right now it is more a clever and sensitive narration and the real existential agony of the two is left untouched. It is not even whether Ila and Fernandes even have an existential problem in the first place. Fernandes appears to be a contented man, and Ila is not a particularly agonised soul as such. One gets the feeling that the movie tries to be what it is not, and that is what kills its virtue.

1 comment:

चलो कुछ कहें said...

Very good review! I have read many but none like this one. Haven't you given it to DNA?

Shashi Kapoor's first screen appearance was in his elder-brother Raj Kapoor's 1951 film, 'Awara', playing the childhood phas...