The Lunchbox is a 2013 Indian epistolary romantic film written and directed by Ritesh Batra, and produced by Guneet Monga, Anurag Kashyap, and Arun Rangachari. The film was jointly produced by various studios including DAR motion pictures, UTV Motion Pictures, Dharma Productions, Sikhya Entertainment, NFDC (India), ROH Films (Germany), ASAP Films (France), and the Cine Mosaic (United States). It stars Irrfan Khan, Nimrat Kaur andNawazuddin Siddiqui in lead roles. The film was screened at International Critics’ Week at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival, and later won the Critics Week Viewers Choice Award also known as Grand Rail d’Or. It was shown at the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival. The film was released in India on 20 September 2013. The film was a box-office success.
The Lunchbox was nominated for the Film Not in the English Language category of the British Academy Film Awards 2015.
Saajan is a lonely accountant about to retire from his job. Ila is a young wife seeking her husband’s attention, looking for ways to put romance back in her marriage, and tries to cook her way to her husband’s heart. A neighbour who lives in the apartment above her gives her advice on cooking and marriage through shouted instructions. Through a rare mixup of the famous “dabbawalas” (a complicated system that picks up and delivers lunches from restaurants or homes to men at work) of Mumbai, the lunchbox with the delicious food Ila prepared for her husband instead gets delivered to widower Saajan. When the lunch containers are delivered back to Ila empty, she is happy, thinking her husband had enjoyed her cooking. When she questioned him, he did not seem to think much of it. Realizing the mistake of the delivery, she writes a note to the recipient of her lunch thanking him for enjoying the food and sends him her husband’s favorite meal the following day.
Saajan replies saying that the food was salty. Upon advice from her neighbour, who believes the lunch went to Ila’s husband, she responds by using hot chili in a lunch that turns out to be so spicy that Saajan resorts to eating bananas to help cool off his mouth. An exchange of the messages sent back and forth with the lunches ignites a friendship between Saajan and Ila who share memories and thoughts in notes passed back and forth in the lunch pails. Meanwhile Saajan deals with a young employee, Shaikh, he is supposed to train to replace him when he retires. Shaikh appears immature, annoying, lazy and irresponsible. On her end, Ila feels her husband is very remote. He not only complains about her food (which is delivered to him from the restaurant Saajan has ordered his lunches from), but she finds out he is having an affair. Also she supports her mother as her father suffers from lung cancer.
As Saajan and Shaikh get to know each other, Shaikh reveals that he is an orphan and has worked in several places, including Saudi Arabia. He is currently living with his girlfriend. As he rides the train home each day after work, he chops vegetables for their dinner on his portfolio. As Saajan trains Shaikh, he has told him what to do and left him on his own, but Shaikh had bluffed his way into the job and many mistakes come to the attention of the boss who calls both of them into his office, puzzled that, after decades of service with never a mistake, so much had gone wrong. He chastises Saajan but tells Shaikh to leave. Saajan takes the blame for all that has gone wrong and saves Shaikh’s job. This act moves Saajan and Shaikh to have a true friendship prompting Shaikh to invite Saajan to dinner at his home with his girlfriend and asking him to be his best man in his wedding, since he has no one else to stand up for him and no family.
In their correspondence through the lunch containers, Ila mentions that Bhutan is a poor but happy and beautiful place where the cost of living is much less than India. Saajan contemplates moving there with her upon his retirement and writes back asking if she will be ready to move to Bhutan with him. Ila writes back saying they should meet and suggests a popular food joint. She is there at the appointed time but Saajan doesn’t turn up. A dejected Ila sends an empty lunchbox the next day. Saajan writes to her saying that he did arrive, but did not meet her because he saw how young and beautiful she is and considered himself too old for her and advises her to move on.
Ila’s father dies and as his body is taken away, Ila’s mother confesses to her that she has been unhappy for most of her marriage. This helps Ila to feel released. She decides to search for Saajan by asking the address where the dabbawalas sent her food and goes to Saajan’s office to meet him, but there she learns that he has retired and headed to Nashik. Ila writes a last message saying farewell to Saajan announcing that she will leave her husband and go to Bhutan.
The movie comes to an end with Saajan returning from Nashik and going in search of Ila with the Dabbawalas song being played in the background.