The Fragrance Of A Lunchbox

Couple of days back, I watched the movie ”The Lunchbox” on TV. Although I had seen it when it was released last year, this time I appreciated it even more. Perhaps, I saw it at a more leisurely pace and with some great friends.It was on Valentine’s day too which added a certain poignancy to the film that deals with the need to be loved.

The performances of the actors is magnificent, the direction and editing is tight, the eye for detail is uncanny! The movie was shot on a shoe-string budget and although the director had permission to film for 50 days , he had to complete it in 30 days as he had no money!(

I consider the movie to be an  extremely intelligent  piece of art. Much of this flows from the ideas and thinking of the Director, Ritesh Batra, which was translated impeccably on screen by the actors. I came to know that during the entire shooting of the film, lead actors Irrfan Khan and Nimrit Kaur do not meet at all! They met only when the film was complete and during the promotions.The film was shot separately with both and then synthesized into a whole. Bravo! Another piece of cinematic brilliance was that, at no time during the entire movie,is the neighbour of Illa shown. We just hear her gravelly, old voice and her ‘presence’ is symbolized by the cane basket in which , both of them exchange everyday household stuff, across different apartment floors in the same building. My favorite scenes are the ones in which Irffan Khan opens the lunchbox to inhale the fragrance of the food.As if he is inhaling the fragrance of the woman who has made it. Something very sensuous about it, oddly reminiscent of ‘Scent of A woman”. I have always believed that scent or fragrance stimulates very powerful emotion and memories. A woman’s perfume thus is referred to as liquid memory. Another brilliant movie by an equally brilliant director,”Haider” by Vishal Bharadwaj uses this concept very beautifully. Shahid Kapoor, the son, buries his face in Tabu, the mother’s neck  to smell her ‘ittar’, conveying an Oedipus complex as well as perhaps, signifying a longing for return to innocence.

The central theme which emerges in the film is that of loneliness and a cry to escape from it. The director  chillingly depicts the deep, hidden cracks of indifference and neglect in a married couple’s seemingly happy, normal day-to-day life. He is so brave in making  the lead female actor’s mother, portrayed by Lillette Dubey, admit that she felt a revulsion while attending to her bed-ridden husband;that there was no love left;only a duty. The exceptionally talented Nawazudin Siddqui ,acting the role of Irffan khan’s  office colleague, is an orphan.Although he is a happy-go-lucky chap, one feels his existential angst and loneliness when he makes up a fictitious mother in order to make himself feel less of a freak.

The director says that the film is full of ‘silences’  which require tremendous acting to ‘fill’. For example in a defining moment in the film, when Irffan Khan is asked about his wife by his colleague’s curious lover, he has to wait for  30 seconds or so to say his dialogue that she is dead. It is exactly how he emotes in those 30 seconds that make him one of the finest actors we have today!

 I was reminded of a poem by Charles Bukowski. ‘Love is a Dog from Hell”.

there is a loneliness in this world so great
that you can see it in the slow movement of
the hands of a clock.

people so tired
either by love or no love.

people just are not good to each other
one on one.

the rich are not good to the rich
the poor are not good to the poor.

we are afraid.

our educational system tells us
that we can all be
big-ass winners.

it hasn’t told us
about the gutters
or the suicides.

or the terror of one person
aching in one place

unspoken to

watering a plant.”

The director and the actors  have managed to convey this effortlessly.

It also got me thinking about the lunch boxes we all normally carry to work. What do they convey about our lives? Who makes it every morning ? Is it your wife/girlfriend/partner ? Does a working woman’s husband/boyfriend/partner chip in ? Can you feel the fragrance of your relationship in the food? Or do both partners depend on a cook? Do they both groan at what the cook has made and call each other up? Do they smile with pleasure at what the cook has made and call each other up? Yeah, do we connect with that person in our life whom we have promised ‘ to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part” ?

I don’t know whether I will ever pack a lunchbox for my guy when he leaves for work, because he and I live on different continents. But I just want to tell you Adi, that I would have done so, had you been here .And had the cook done so, I would have put tissues with the perfume you love on me in your lunch box 🙂

Ta, guys 🙂