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Improbable Efficiency – The Lunchbox Love Story (take 2!)

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I’m just so darn proud “The Lunchbox” did well in the festival circuit and opened this week in India  (with global domination around the corner!). And while “The Lunchbox” was passed over for the Indian Oscar entry, delighted it is finally reaching audiences. Congratulations to Ritesh’s deft writing & directing and the entire cast & crew that made it happen.

So here goes a repeat of my earlier post published 21 May 2013 – with ‘extra bonus’ movie trailer and image!

Photo: The Lunchbox FaceBook page

Photo: The Lunchbox FaceBook page

Improbable Efficiency – A Dabba Love Story

I recently saw a new film “The Lunchbox” or “Dabba” by Ritesh Batra starring Irrfan Khan and Nimrat Kaur. It was a private preview screening for cast, crew, family and friends before the official world premier in Cannes this weekend. My interest was a chance to see my partner on-screen – playing the role of Irrfan’s boss (Mr Shroff). Irrfan’s character Saajan Fernandez is a taciturn claims officer in a public insurance company, about to retire after 35 years of service. Nimrat plays Ila, a young middle class housewife and mother.

Small lunch dabba

Small lunch dabba (Food & photo: Carissa Hickling)

The premise of the story is that Saajan and Ila’s husband’s lunch dabbas are mistakenly switched when delivered by Mumbai’s dabba wallas. Saajan, a widower, has a neighbourhood restaurant send him lunch in office. Whereas Ila carefully prepares her husband’s lunch, hoping to re-capture his drifting regard through the quality and inventiveness of her culinary creations. She is amazed one day when the dabba is returned home with the food so relished that the container was uncharacteristically licked clean!

Saajan not only appreciates the lunches far more than the dabba’s rightful recipient, but, when Ila initiates an exchange enquiring about the apparent mix-up, a correspondence is struck. Through the exchange of notes sent with the food, the two gently fall in love. They share dreams and angst – Saajan’s solitude after his wife’s death and Ila’s disquiet on discovery of her husband’s infidelity. It is a touching, sweet film that will hopefully appeal to international audiences with its glimpse into modest middle class Mumbai, evoking Babette’s Feast, Chocolate and other films where food and love co-mingle in unlikely ways.

Dabba wallas on a Mumbai train (Photo: Wikepaedia)

Dabba wallas on a Mumbai train (Photo: Wikepaedia)

The irony is that its very premise is improbable – the chances of such a delivery error happening is, well, nearly nill. In the film, when Ila tries to track down where her dabba is being sent in an effort to meet Saajan, her dabba walla declares that such a mistake is impossible! Affronted, he argues that even Prince Charles and Harvard have praised them for faultless delivery.

For those unfamiliar with the extraordinary efforts of Mumbai’s dabba wallas, their precision and efficiency is well documented – including a Harvard Business Review Case Study “Dabbawallah’s of Mumbai.” It is the very contradiction that captures awe and attention – a supply chain of service excellence for on-time and accurate delivery at a six sigma level perfected by largely illiterate bearers who use the overtaxed train system and bicycles in rain or shine to deliver tastes of home to office in time for lunch.

What struck me is that the story illustrates how India remains a country where multiple realities co-exist. In this case, an example of exceptional accuracy by proud tiffin bearers contrasted with the stereotypical crippling inefficiency of the Indian bureaucracy. It is also a story that could happen only in Mumbai – such a system of sending lunch is unheard of in Canada or elsewhere.

The film is also a reminder of an earlier era, where a tender affection can emerge from hand-written, highly personal and revealing letters. Digital media has replaced such a communication mode with carefully constructed public personas, mass social connects and updates via FaceBook, abbreviated text msgs – LOLS.

While the system of dabba delivery began in 1880, it has evolved and today can even be arranged via SMS.  There is also a remarkable ‘share my dabba’ initiative where left over food is shared with street children (see this video or FB page). The pragmatic approach they support is a humbling reminder of many who do not have proper meals in a city of stunning wealth.

And while the way to a man (or woman’s) heart may be through the stomach, the mode of delivery apparently can also play a role!

Do you have any stories of improbable efficiency or an unlikely love tale to share?

The Lunchbox movie trailer OUTSIDE of India:

Lunchbox outside India

The Lunchbox movie trainer WITHIN India:

And The Lunchbox ‘playlist’ with a series of short vignettes

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15 Comments

  1. I so want to see this 🙂

  2. ottominuti says:

    I cant watch the video, it says its not available in my country:-( I d love to see the film, hope they will be distributing it in Europe…

    • Well… apparently the YouTube link I can open works in India… That’s it folks!

      However a friend in the UK took the trouble to hunt down another link which works there but… you guessed it! Not in India. Here instead we are greeted with dire warnings of: “This video contains content from utvmotionpictures, who has blocked it in your country on copyright grounds.”

      Here it is for your viewing pleasure and I’ve updated the post. Also catching up with the director, his lovely wife and daughter (its her 1st bday!) tomorrow so will get an even more detailed ‘scoop’ on what can be seen where and when!

  3. pollyheath says:

    I would love to see this. The link doesn’t work for me either 😦

  4. Here’s the scoop – will be out early 2014 in the US and other countries… closer to the date Sony will launch their “official” trailer that isn’t region specific. So… will just have to be a wee bit patient!!

  5. Brad Pragnell says:

    Carissa, I was able to watch it on a Qantas flight between Auckland and Sydney and loved it! Also saw that it is playing as part of New Zealand International Film Festival which starts on 17 July 2014
    http://www.nziff.co.nz/2014/auckland/

  6. I saw it on the Vancouver Public Library. It’s amazing! Inteligent and deep. Also nice and atractive. Congrats!

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