Ritesh Batra's The Lunchbox, an art house sleeper hit he wrote and directed, is set in contemporary Bombay. The Lunchbox found itself in a massive public controversy when Indian film officials declined to nominate it as their official selection to the Oscars for Best Foreign Picture last year. But last week, in a surprising twist of fate, The Lunchbox made the cut for the BAFTAS -- Britian's equivalent of the Oscars. Whether it wins remains to be seen but Batra was a guest of Sensorium, a Goa based arts festival with which the Huffington Post is a partner. Director of Sensorium, bestselling writer Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi, introduced the film on the evening of Batra's talk.
Ritesh Batra's film, The Lunchbox, moved me deeply. A story about two people settled into the shape of their lives: A widower with the whiff of a curmudgeon; a young woman stuck in a marriage of unsettling boredom. Then, on account of a miscommunication, their lives change. A lunchbox delivery error flags of an epistolary friendship. Notes are exchanged between two people who have never met. Whole days are spent in a white heat of restless waiting. The characters says little, yet the film conveys what is essential; it says what can possibly be said by one person at that point of time. The viewer is left wondering early on: Will the two characters meet eventually? Or will they spend the rest of the lives in a dark solace of beautiful letters?
Here lies the script's strength: It abides by our personal failures of speech and in feeling. Batra's direction lifts these letdowns with visual quietness, and in dialogues of halting tenderness. There is the widower, Irfan Khan so adept with the faltering heart cadence it would make Meryl Streep seethe with envy. The housewife, Nimrat Kaur, so full of longing I often felt her beat in my own heart. And the smart alec rookie hire, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, his awkwardness nothing more than a clever conceit of acting excellence.
The Lunchbox is a masterful study in how our longing is answered if we allow it to be answered. And our two main leads show how when you settle for anything less than what you entirely deserve you just land yourself a seat in a slow burn hell.
You don't die entirely; you just die a little each day.
And perhaps the only thing left to do then is get the hell out of there.
Scram. Jump on the next bus with a bag full of your best things.
And maybe that is what the protagonists do. They get the hell out of the dirty, claustrophobic lives in Bombay. Or maybe they don't. Because the film's conclusion does not permit for a neat end, honoring Toni Morrison's mandate that the best stories are open-ended, and collaborative: the storyteller lends one half and you, the reader, the viewer, make up the other half. Speaking for myself, I felt the two central characters had chanced upon Rilke, who wrote that perhaps the only purpose of life is to be 'defeated by greater and greater things.' Now more than ever I believe that if we are too be defeated then let it be love that defeats us.
What begins like an O'Henry story, with all the attendant details out of Chekhov, The Lunchbox is about lost chances, about missed connections. Equally, and more powerfully, it is also about the returned gaze, and the honored word - the alchemical possibilities of love, and a cinematic writ large of E.M. Forster's dictum, 'only connect.' Life, after all, is connection, one fate bumping into another, one heart discovering the conversation of another. But fate harbors no accidents of encounter. People meet because life offered them a chance. Life said, Here, love someone, change yourself, risk a little, bruise. Every single day, if we are alert to it, life offers us the almost ajar door, which when entered, leads to paradise, to heaven, to our salvation. The only thing we must summon is courage is to open that door, and to meet life, and our great loves, as if we had never been apart.
(Sunaparanta: Goa Center of the Arts hosts Sensorium until February 2015. Sunaparanta is a public initiative founded by Raj and Dipti Salgaocar and partnered with the Huffington Post).