If I thought that Bombay Talkies was a sure sign of a maturing Bollywood, I had thought too soon, because I had no clue what a mouth-watering treat The Lunchbox was going to serve up. The movie had already been places (literally), before it hit the screens here: the world at large had gulped it up hungrily, and the wait was finally over for an increasingly evolving Indian audience: an audience which laps up the sheer nonsense of a Chennai Express or a Grand Masti, but is also greedy for GOOD cinema which doesn’t necessarily classify itself as arty or commercial. GOOD cinema simply focuses on telling a story and telling it well, and this is where The Lunchbox, with all its simplicity strikes a chord with viewers: you could be a critic, you could be an intellectual, you could be an ordinary middle class man in the Churchgate-Virar local, but irrespective of who you are, you would find a reason to smile, a reason to hope, a reason to empathize with each of the characters.
For a debutant director, Ritesh Batra is refreshing in his story-telling, well backed up by the crisp writing, the accurate research and of course, the impeccable acting. For long, Bollywood was tarnished with the image that it had only stars, but not REAL actors. But the late advent of Irrfan and Nawazuddin has paved the way for aspiring talent, whose strength lies in acting and not looking good/dancing/being a star kid. Then there is Nimrat Kaur, who holds her own, despite having to share the space with two men who have rewritten Bollywood rules. But the unlikely faceless hero is the "Aunty" upstairs with her magnificent voiceover: a far cry from the usual Bollywood cliches of nosy neighbours. As reflected in both Bombay Talkies and The Lunchbox, A-list producers, who thus far preferred splurging on mindless potboilers are now throwing in the towel for unconventional movies which are not only creatively satisfying but also finds an appreciative box-office response.
The Lunchbox may have lost out to The Good Road in its race for being India’s entry for the Oscars, but that doesn’t take away the fact that it is probably one of the best Bollywood movies you would have ever seen. The open-ended climax (or the lack of it) only emphasizes the respect it has for the audience: an intelligent audience who doesn’t need to be spoon-fed, an imaginative audience who can think beyond the scenes and an open-minded audience who can entertain different points of view without agreeing with all.
If you were the chef, you would be proud to offer The Lunchbox to a starved audience, desperately trying to find something palatable in an age of fancy cuisines which fall short of satiating the appetite…