Warning: Contains spoilers.
These days, a film's life is very short. By that measure, "The Lunchbox" has already been around for some time (more than a week), and a lot has been written and discussed about it by now. I saw the film, relished most of it, but there were some things that left a slightly sour taste.
No doubt, it is a sweet, simple story told very well. Mumbai comes alive on the screen just as it is: crowded, always on the move, and busy. In spite of being chock-a-block with people, each and every resident of this metropolis is an island within herself or himself...lonely, secluded, caught in the rhythmic cycle of life in a big city.
When a wrongly delivered lunchbox becomes the link between two strangers, it allows both of them to share their feelings, their memories, their insecurities and their fears in an uninhibited manner. They look forward to reading the handwritten notes in it with hope, anticipation and longing. The multi-tiered container becomes a symbol of friendship that brightens up their otherwise drab lives. In the course of this friendship, they get a chance to introspect, find courage and discover the other side of their persona that they didn't know existed.
Irrfan Khan's portrayal of Saajan (wonder if anyone has that for a first name!) Fernandes, an irritable, unfriendly and dour widower is brilliant. His life revolves around the heaps of files on his office desk, his daily commute in overflowing trains, and his smoking break in the balcony every evening while looking yearningly at a neighbour's dining room full of people.
Nimrat Kaur as Ila, the middle class homemaker is very natural when she moves around her cramped place cooking, cleaning and tending to her daughter. She dishes out sumptuous delicacies day after day hoping to win her indifferent husband's attention. What gives her a break in between these repetitive chores is her interaction through the window with her unseen neighbour, a spunky Bharati Achrekar as Deshpande Aunty, who manages to leave a mark only with her distinctive voice.
But who takes the cake among the three lead actors is the affable Shaikh, played by Nawazuddin Siddiqui. He brings a smile to your lips with his street smartness, his never say die attitude and his exuberant optimism. He is funny without adopting any unnatural mannerisms, without any exaggerated gestures and without any loudness. In fact, he is as close to the Mumbaikar in spirit as one can get.
Lillete Dubey has a small role, but her character looks over the top considering the subtle tone of the whole film. The suggestion that Ila's husband might be having an affair is so subtle that you doubt its veracity. And the end? Well, I think after watching a film through its entire length, one deserves to see the story being brought to a proper end. An ambiguous end could be taken as the writer/director's inability to bring his/her tale to a conclusion. To me, the film seemed like a feast served without dessert.