World tucks into Lunchbox
Saibal Chatterjee, Cannes/New Delhi
Of all the Indian films that were screened in Cannes this year, the standout was Ritesh Batra’s debut feature, The Lunchbox.
The unpretentious but charming tale is an instant crowd-pleaser, and for all the right reasons.
Elegantly crafted, superbly acted and emotionally nuanced, The Lunchbox hinges on a platonic bond sparked between two loners when a homemade meal is delivered to the wrong address by one of Mumbai’s otherwise famously efficient dabbawalas.
The film was part of the Semaine de la Critique (Critics’ Week), a section that runs parallel to the main Cannes Film Festival. It received a standing ovation at each of its four screenings in Cannes.
The Lunchbox also went on to win the Grand Rail d’Or Viewers’ Choice prize. This was the first award that a full-length Indian film has received in Cannes since Murali Nair’s Malayalam-language Marana Simhasanan (Throne of Death) bagged the Camera d’Or (for the best first feature) way back in 1999.
While Variety described The Lunchbox as a film “that hits all the right taste buds”, The Hollywood Reporter called it “a very Indian tale in its delicacy and humour”. Given its innate crossover appeal, it is indeed one of the most significant directorial debuts in contemporary Indian cinema.
Batra is clearly a writer-director to watch. He has the right reference points and understands that one needs to be “local” in order to be “universal” like a Satyajit Ray or an Abbas Kiarostami.
The 34-year-old filmmaker told an American film industry magazine on the sidelines of the Critics Week: “What is mostly happening in India is that we are self-conscious and trying to be something we are not – such as trying to be Tarantino-esque. Something original and organic comes after you invest in yourself ...