TIF­FIN BOX

With sev­eral in­ter­na­tional awards in its kitty, The Lunch­box is set to wow In­dian au­di­ences with its por­trayal of love and long­ing even as it is be­ing pitched as In­dia’s Os­car en­try

India Today - - CINEMA - By Suhani Singh

Saa­jan Fer­nan­des ( Ir­rfan Khan) is an age­ing wid­ower whose life gets some much­needed flavour cour­tesy a wrongly- de­liv­ered dabba. Ila ( Nim­rat Kaur) is a young, melan­cholic house­wife who hopes to win her hus­band’s heart through hot meals. The two lost souls are con­nected by a dabba, which be­comes a car­rier of food as well as of charm­ing and pro­found let­ters. When Fer­nan­des is not busy giv­ing Ila feed­back on her food (“too salty,” one let­ter says), he gives her ad­vice on how to save her mar­riage.

Di­rec­tor- writer Ritesh Batra’s 1.5- mil­lion euro de­but film, The Lunch­box, is a story of ro­mance, loss and nos­tal­gia set in Mum­bai. It has al­ready re­cov­ered its cost af­ter be­ing sold to in­ter­na­tional buy­ers since it pre­miered at Cannes Film Fes­ti­val’s In­ter­na­tional Crit­ics’ Week. It has won global praise with two au­di­ence awards: The Grand Rail d’Or at Cannes and one at Am­s­ter­dam’s World Cin­ema Fes­ti­val. Batra won the best di­rec­tor award at the Odessa film fes­ti­val in Ukraine. The Lunch­box is still get­ting in­vited to ma­jor film fes­ti­vals. Or­gan­is­ers of the Tel­luride Film Fes­ti­val held seven screen­ings on pop­u­lar de­mand and it is the only In­dian film in com­pe­ti­tion at the Lon­don Film Fes­ti­val. On cue, Sony Pic­tures Clas­sics, known for its su­perla­tive record in the Os­cars best for­eign lan­guage cat­e­gory — win­ners six times in the last seven years— has picked up the US rights.

In In­dia, its cause is helped by pow­er­ful sup­port­ers such as Karan Jo­har, who is presenting it, and UTV, which is dis­tribut­ing it. Anurag Kashyap is also rav­ing about it. They all have swooned over its ev­ery­day vi­su­als, of Fer­nan­des

A Pun­jabi from Ban­dra, Batra, 34, left Mum­bai to at­tend the grad­u­ate film pro­gramme at Tisch School of the Arts, New York Univer­sity, from which he dropped out in 2010. He ini­tially wanted to make a doc­u­men­tary on dab­bawalas, one of Mum­bai’s life­lines. But in 2007, he started writ­ing a love story cen­tred on what he de­scribes as a “mir­a­cle, not a mis­take”— a dabba land­ing at the wrong ad­dress. He de­vel­oped the script at the Binger- NFDC screen­writer’s lab in Goa and then at the Torino fes­ti­val screen­writer’s lab, and got fund­ing from France, Ger­many, the US, along with NFDC, Sikhya En­ter­tain­ment and DAR Mo­tion Pic­tures from In­dia. The in­ter­na­tional part­ners came in handy dur­ing post- pro­duc­tion: The sound de- watch­ing a tape of TV show Yeh Jo Hai Zindagi, a fluffy roti be­ing cooked in a tiny kitchen, a man cut­ting veg­eta­bles in a lo­cal train. They may be de­tails spe­cific to Mum­bai, but as Khan says, “It could’ve been any place in the world.”

View­ers are en­grossed in the fates of the leads from the open­ing scene. Fer­nan­des, a govern­ment of­fi­cial near re­tire­ment, is re­luc­tant to hand over reins to Shaikh ( Nawazud­din Sid­diqui), his suc­ces­sor. If he ap­pears con­tent with his life, Ila wants to turn her’s around and re­store the in­ti­macy she once shared with her hus­band. sign was done in Ber­lin, colour cor­rec­tion in France and edit­ing in New York.

While Khan and Sid­diqui were Batra’s first choices, his search for Ila took al­most three months, un­til he ze­roed in on Kaur, a theatre ac­tor. The two met over six months to de­velop the char­ac­ter. “I wanted her to spend time in the flat,” says Batra. “She and Nakul ( Vaid, who plays her hus­band) were also in­volved in the pro­duc­tion de­sign. They went shop­ping for the flat.”

Shot in 29 days in 2012, largely in a crammed flat in Malad East and the rail­way of­fice in Church­gate, Batra en­sured that Kaur and Khan didn’t meet, to cre­ate a ro­mance that thrives on imag­i­na­tion. Says Batra, “They have a pal­pa­ble sense of who the other per­son might be, or how they might look like.” The only time Khan and Kaur came to­gether dur­ing the shoot is when their char­ac­ters plan to meet at Matunga’s Café Koolar.

Kaur ab­stained from so­cial net­works and cut down on meet­ing friends. “I was on my own,” she says. She stopped pluck­ing eye­brows, cut her fin­ger­nails and coloured them with henna to get into the char­ac­ter. Khan drew inspiration from his un­cle, Manzoor Ahmed, who spent his life com­mut­ing from the sub­urbs to Church­gate.

It is the gen­uine­ness of the char­ac­ters that makes The Lunch­box so al­lur­ing. When Shaikh de­scribes him­self as “height mein kuch khaas nahin” and “kaala ka­luta” or when Fer­nan­des says “there is no value for tal­ent in this coun­try”, they may be talk­ing about them­selves. Batra won’t have to worry about that. The Lunch­box al­ready has In­dia’s film fra­ter­nity buzzing ahead of its Septem­ber 20 re­lease.

IR­RFAN KHAN ( RIGHT) WITH NAWAZUD­DIN SID­DIQUI

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