Why see The Lunch Box?

September 13th, 2014, 10am

As a lifelong lover of foreign and arthouse films, I have resisted the Indian cinema, the world’s largest producer of films, throughout my long life. Yes, of course, there are exceptions: Satyajit Ray’s trilogy, and I remember Bimal Roy’s Two Acres of Land, also from the fifties; Kabuliwaala(1961) which was recommended to me when my daughter was born; Salaam Bombay (1988), which my crowd saw for political reasons; and there may have been one or two more that don’t come to mind.

So, my first reason that you should see The Lunch Box is that you are probably as shamefully ignorant as I of India’s great cinematic tradition, and, as India assumes its place among the world leading nations, it’s time to rectify this cultural deficiency. Why not start here?

Second, if you admire the cinema of restraint, subtlety, holding back, understatement, nuance, fineness, as I do, then you will appreciate a product in very short supply in the modern world.

Third, one can but love a foodie’s film that eschews the cliches of ‘foodspeak,’ one which virtually eliminates the use of words altogether in its culinary appreciations: an eyebrow moves; an intake of the breath as the food approaches; the slightest flexion of the muscles in the nose; delicacies of expression that seem lost in the West to all but the finest of actors. Sometimes, instead of seeing the food directly, the audience sees only the faint suggestion of a smile on a face that is seeing the food.

Fourth, the film offers a credible romance premised only on handwritten notes; an unfashionable romance between May and September; a romance that ends with . . . well I can’t really reveal it, except to say . . . with the characters a little more sure of themselves after grappling with some of the moral issues and emotional challenges of life, friendship and love — without a single hint of over-sentimentality of the sort, say, Disney would give us.

As you can see, I really did enjoy this film immensely, though I wouldn’t say I loved it. For entirely different reasons, I recently also enjoyed , and also did not love, another film with remarkably parallel yet contrasting themes: The 100 Foot Journey. Disney’s foodie romance featuring Indian and Western actors (Om Puri and Helen Mirren) as well as Indian and Western (French) cuisine. It too is a fine film for a Saturday afternoon, though in so many ways unlike The Lunchbox: it hasn’t a subtle bone in its body; it is hugely sentimental, it has wonderfully comic ‘food porn’ sequences that bring delight, even outright laughter.

In the end, I preferred The Lunchbox, which also has at least a few nicely drawn touches of humour, as when the neighbour above, based on scent alone, calls down to the young cook: “One bite of that and he will build you a Taj Mahal,” to which Ila, whose husband is having an affair, responds “The Taj Mahal is a tomb.”

. . .

Perhaps, the Indian film is, for Westerners, an ‘acquired taste,’ one that most don’t find time to acquire. I certainly do try to avoid the ‘all singing, all dancing’ variety, whether Holly- or Bollywood productions. I am learning to like films, not just Indian, in which the pace is very slow, almost tedious, with nothing happening, until suddenly you begin to realize that “life” has happened, and it was wonderfully revealed. I felt that way about the Japanese film Tokyo Story.

Ragini, Adrian, Lloyd, Dani and 4 others said thanks.

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David Wade Chambers

Born in Oklahoma: 30 years in US. 6 years in Canada, 40 years in Australia. Academic field: history and philosophy of science. Currently, teach indigenous studies online at Institute of American Indian Arts (Santa Fe, NM) and Brandon University (Manitoba). Come visit our B&B on Australia's Great Ocean Road. Mate's Rates for Hi community! (http://www.cimarron.com.au)

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