News East West
TORONTO: After the Toronto International Film Festival celebrated 100 years of Bollywood by featuring so many films last year, there were a few films from India this year.
As usual, the Bollywood masala film Shuddh Desi Romance failed to evoke any response during its press and industry screening as people, most non-Indians, could be seen leaving the theatre mid-way.
Siddharth by Toronto-based director Richie Mehta, which is the heart-rending story of a struggling merchant father trying to find his young missing son, made an impact as did Anup Singh’s Qissa which, of course, went on to win the award as the top Asian film at this year’s festival.
Faith Connections by Pan Nalin was also a superb documentary about the Kumbh Mela and various streams of Hindu faith that merge at the Sangam.
But the film that stood out at this year’s film festival was The Lunchbox.
Brilliantly directed by Ritesh Batra, this Guneet Monga-Anurag Kashyap production is the story of a joyless widower Saajan Fernandez (played by Irrfan Khan) who is about to the retire after 35 years of service in the claims department of a government office.
Then suddenly love enters into the life of this brooding, lonely man thanks to a dabbawalla mistakenly delivering daily lunchbox to Saajan Fernandez. Actually, the lunchbox is sent by Ila (played by Nimrat Kaur) for her husband (played by Nakul Vaid).
When Ila realizes that the lunchbox sent by her for husband is reaching Saajan Fernandez, she sends him (Saajan) a note in the lunchbox and gets a rather cool response. But slowly and slowly, the joyless Saajan melts and these exchanges between these two unknown people develop into love.
Once again, Irrfan Khan is superb in his role of the brooding, joyless widower Saajan on the verge of retirement.
But cheerful and outgoing Aslam Sheikh (played Nawazuddin Siddiqui), who is being trained to take over Saajan’s place in the office, is the very opposite of Saajan.
In fact, the sometimes funny dialogue between Saajan and Aslam Sheikh provides much needed humour for the film.
In a nutshell, the director subtly brings out the humdrum of daily lives through Saajan and Ila in urban jungles of today. Ila is a trapped in a loveless marriage and has no escape. Her only deeper connection is with her neighbour Mrs. Deshpande (played by Bharati Achrekar) through daily exchanges of advice on cooking or music or clothing.
And so deep is widower Saajan Fernandez ’s alienation or loneliness that he even doesn’t children from neighbourhood to play near his house in the urban jungle. But then love between these two unknown, unhappy people opens new possibilities in their lives.
From the scenes in the crowded Mumbai trains to the lonely lives in urban jungles to the possibility of love that the misdelivered lunchbox opens, this film is such a telling comment on today’s urban reality around the world.