In Mumbai there are approximately 5,000 dabbawallahs and the statistic holds that they only make a mistake '1 in 6 million times'. In the movie, according to the 'dabbawallahs' (lunchbox deliverers), they make no mistakes. The correct lunchbox is always delivered to the correct person, and they have been checked out by the people at 'Harvard' and even endorsed by the 'King of England'. With such self-proclaimed endorsements and reassurances, the lunchbox IS delivered to the wrong person. So begins the liaison between a man, a loner with not much going on in his life, entering retirement, and a woman, wilting under the neglect of the husband whose love and affection she dearly wants.
What begins innocently as a 'mistaken lunchbox', slowly evolves into an exchange of notes between two strangers who desperately hunger for human connection. Through these innocent notes, they are strangers no more as they start to confide in each other, and look forward to the relief these notes bring to their lonely lives.
Saajan played by Irrfan Khan
This story is a study of two people, two lives, each immersed in their individual milestones and trials, and a relationship that builds slowly between them through delicate injections of connection that draws out every emotional nuance. He (Irrfan Khan as Saajan Fernandes) is on the verge of retirement with a young annoying replacement snapping at his heels. For me, Irrfan's quiet purposeful acting does not always work, and at times just comes across as wooden. Perhaps its his acting style, as I thought the same of his portrayal in 'Life of Pi'. The young annoying replacement played by Nawazuddin Siddiqui as Shaikh did not have the acting chops to go from annoying to endearing. As this is a quiet study of emotions that plays on nuances of expressions and subtle moments that concentrates closely on the characters, the actors really need to step up to the plate. Nimrat Kaur as Ila certainly accomplishes that as she is faultless and every message she conveys, hits the target. She is as amazing as she is beautiful, even without makeup.
Ila played by Nimrat Kaur
The fledgling director Ritesh Batra (whose interview you can view here certainly does a great job of depicting life in Mumbai and telling the story of its dabbawallahs. In fact, this was never intended to be a feature film, but a documentary about the dabbawallahs who were a part of life as he knew it, growing up. The story grew around it. He didn't expect the standing ovation and critic's award in Cannes, and he certainly deserves that for the movie overall. I have no doubt the much loved quote in the movie, 'sometimes the wrong train will get you to the right station' will be repeated many times, but just remember folks, sometimes the right train will get you to the wrong station too (chuckles).
Amongst the story of dabbawallahs and relationships, moments of humour are injected throughout and mostly through the voice of an 'aunty' (in asian culture, even though not related, respect is paid to ones elders by calling them aunty, instead of being too familiar and calling them by their first name) who lives upstairs, and whom we never see. Loving foreign movies and having seen a lot of Indian movies as well, I quietly enjoyed a lot of the movie and immersed myself in scenes of life in Mumbai. However, I expected more than it gave me after seeing the trailer which puts together a great snapshot. Perhaps its because all the good moments are condensed in it, and when stretched out to the length of a movie, it is not quite as fulfilling as I had hoped. Having watching collaborated greats like Monsoon Wedding and Kama Sutra (both by the accomplished Mira Nair), this is a very watchable movie, but it 'just' falls short of packing a punch. I kept expecting more and it wasn't delivering. I'd give it a 6 and a half out of 10.
All images courtesy of Madman Entertainment Pty. Ltd. All rights reserved.