The credits rolled and I thought to myself; how can something so simple be so poignantly beautiful? And I probably thought over that for two days, hence the delay in writing this. And I still haven’t found the answer, maybe I’ll go watch it again.You may have already read a whole lot of reviews which give you reason to watch this film. This isn’t a recommendation; everyone right from Rajeev Masand to Raja Sen has given it 5 stars. And the fact that it isn’t India’s official entry to the Oscars, cements on the fact that this is a brilliant film. Because the last time around we had sent Barfi!
The story is set in present day Mumbai and shows the city better than most films have managed to in the recent past. The city is somewhat ingrained in the narrative; the three primary distinctly different characters shown in the film reek of the city as do their respective origins and situations. And then the premise of the film; a lunchbox delivery that goes wrong brings two strangers closer than they would every be. The dabbawallahs and their self proclaimed validation by England ka raja, the painter painting different versions of the same scenario and the stuffy compartments of the Mumbai locals; things that transport you to the city of Mumbai – the fourth primary character of the film, where such a story could totally happen in real life.
Irrfan’s character, the just about to retire Saajan Fernandez is so well etched and the actor does such a good job of being the character that for most parts you give into seeing things from his perspective. The understated acting does wonders to the way the film plays out. On the other side of the wrongly delivered lunch box is Ila (Nimrat Kaur ), a housewife dealing with a failing marriage and a seemingly meaningless existence. And there is Nawazuddin’s new kid on the block Shaikh who is about to take over Saajan’s position at the office. Even the secondary characters are so well placed, there’s the unseen neighbour who guides Ila through the narrative and there’s the cheating husband, who doesn’t care what’s for lunch cause he is definitely eating elsewhere. The characters as I mentioned are starkly realistic that you will identify with them on a level that you wouldn’t probably want to.
The film is beautifully anchored, almost following the way serials were directed and written in the golden years of Indian television (i.e. Doordarshan in the 80s); simple, without embellishment yet compelling enough to fall in love with. And the fact it references those programs in the narrative is all the more gratifying. I read even the opening sequence titles paid homage to that. There is honesty in it’s narrative and this is reflected in more than a scene. The film relies a lot on non-dialogue based progression and with Nawazuddin and Irrfan in it, that’s not very difficult to achieve. There were entire phases when I’d just be enamoured by the way Irrfan would react or the way Nawazuddin would break the ice. But the surprise is Nimrat Kaur who was last seen in Love Shuv tey Chicken Khurana and that Cadbury commercial. The plot itself can be compared to the James Stewart starrer Shop Around the Corner (yes, it was a film before being Kathleen’s bookstore in You’ve got mail) and many other television and movie attempts that have tried to create a relationship between two (seemingly) strangers.
What sets this apart is the fact that the letters start from thanking someone and go onto becoming very intensely revelatory, they are hardly conversational and yet they spark a romance. And then there is the use of silence. Silence forms a major component of the director’s story telling arsenal here; there’s hardly any background music. The background music in Ila’s case is actually her neighbours tape recorder and for Saajan it’s the beggar kids on the train. And Irrfan uses silence very well. He does what most can’t do in words. His first encounter with Nawazuddin’s character, his lonesome dinners and him staring into his neighbour’s comparatively happy life are just few of the many instances that the actor uses silence to create magic.
The revelations will not trouble you but they will evoke feelings for those involved with ease; this is one of those films which will make you cry and laugh without much effort and reason. And even technically, it’s an extension of that very thought. The cinematography is non-imposing, it’s minimal and so realistic that you feel this is a documentary from a skewed point of view. The editing breathes life into the films existence, never do you feel that there is something wrong in the way things are going about. And it’s that very flow that makes the ending all that more hard to come to terms with. You are so involved and into it, that by the time the end credits roll, you’ll feel the pangs of detachment with hope for closure.