by NEVIL GIBSON

India is one of the world’s biggest film producing nations, but Bollywood’s prolific output doesn’t thrive beyond the Indian diaspora.

Irrfan Khan stars as Saajan in a scene from The Lunchbox.
For a period from independence to the 1960s, Western art film audiences appreciated the simple realism of Satyyajit Ray’s Apu trilogy and, in particular, Pather Panchali (1955).
Interest in off-Bollywood films revived with the Merchant-Ivory team, who made a series of features based on screenplays by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala. These started with The Householder (1963) and it was followed by Shakespeare Wallah (1965). The team then moved on to Europe and adaptations of classic novels, although they did make a few that were set in India (The Courtesans of Bombay and Heat and Dust).
Since then the appetite for Indian-themed films aimed at Westerners has remained high, although
only sporadically sated despite Bollywood’s music-and-action spectaculars becoming more of a
global force.
More recently, the popularity of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, followedby the visually spectacular Life of Pi, has brought more interest from Western producers.
The 100-Foot Journey shamelessly mixes Indian cliches with French ones, while The Million
Dollar Arm applied the Slumdog Millionaire formula to the real-life story of two American baseball stars discovered in cricket-mad India.
The Lunchbox (Madman) is backed by European production companies and taps the strong sentimental demand for stories from a country that is rooted in the past and resistant to many
modern ways.
Although set in a bustling and chaotic Mumbai, The Lunchbox is an old-fashioned love story that was once the hallmark of decades ago European and Hollywood filmmaking.
A May to December romance is centred on an Indian institution — the dabba in which tiffins, or tin lunchboxes, are delivered by hand from millions of homes to workplaces each day and then returned to their exact origin.
This smoothly working machine has been studied by the Harvard Business School, as each dabba
makes its miraculous daily trip by foot, bicycle and Mumbai’s crowded suburban train system. The slim plot is that the system malfunctions and a near retirement and widowed accountant (Irrfan Khan) receives a lunch that isn’t his.
These are prepared by a neglected housewife (Nimrat Kaur), who is trying to woo back her husband with appetisers conceived with the help of an all-knowing neighbour.
This off beat romance blossoms as notes are swapped in the daily routine of willing provider and grateful recipient. As the meals become more tempting, so too do Khan’s hopes that Kaur will be the spice he needs for his planned life of solitary retirement.
At the other end of the chain, the melancholic housewife contemplates a much bleaker fate, with
suspicions her husband is cheating while also having to deal with her mother’s bitterness from her own widowhood.
A further subplot contrasts these disintegrating relationships with Khan’s office replacement
(Nawazuddin Siddiqui), an extrovert with an orphan background and looking forward to a planned
Muslim marriage.
Writer-director Ritesh Batra captures the quiet dilemmas of his principals without stinting on
the realism of Indian life in all its aspects.
Rating: Parental guidance advised for younger viewers; 104 minutes.

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