8888677771 | Four life lessons from Irrfan’s The Lunchbox: ‘Sometimes even the wrong train can take us to right station’ | Bollywood News

“Sometimes, even the wrong train takes us to the right station,” this dialogue is the essence of Ritesh Batra’s debut film The Lunchbox. However, in this unique tale, it’s not a train but a lunchbox mix-up that initiates an unexpected friendship and imparts a series of life lessons to the audience. A decade after its release, The Lunchbox remains an indelible part of our memory.

The film delicately and honestly explores universal themes such as loneliness, infidelity, death, and marriage, making it a relevant and relatable piece of cinema even today. Its runtime of one hour and forty-four minutes feels like a journey through a captivating novel, with each viewing offering new insights and lessons. Even on the fourth watch, the skip button stayed at rest for me as I got sucked into the world of Ila (Nimrant Kaur) and Saajan Fernandes (Irrfan). As we celebrate a decade of this enchanting story brought to life by Irrfan’s magic, let’s reflect on the profound life lessons that The Lunchbox imparts:

Food is a language

Ila, who was born into a middle-class family, doesn’t speak much and uses food as her language. She uses delicious curries and stuffed brinjal as a tool to rekindle romance in her marriage. She gets her recipes from the lady who lives upstairs and pours her feelings into the food she prepares for her husband. Ila’s dishes tell a story, just like many mothers’ and wives’ cooking does. Sometimes, when she’s under pressure, she adds too much salt, and on other days, when she’s upset and wants to make a point, she adds lots of chillies. Coincidentally and luckily, her husband’s lunchbox reaches another man (Mr Fernandes) who not only enjoys her food but also understands the emotions behind it. This chance encounter helps Ila discover her own value through her cooking.

When Irrfan's Mr Fernandes tasted the food made by Nimrat Kaur's Ila for the first time in The Lunchbox. When Irrfan’s Mr Fernandes tasted the food made by Nimrat Kaur’s Ila for the first time in The Lunchbox.

Human connection is the cure for loneliness

In a world that often praises self-reliance and independence, The Lunchbox boldly highlights the significance of human connection. Mr Fernandes, despite initially appearing self-sufficient, reminds us that we all need people in our lives. He resembles that stern neighbour we’ve all encountered, the one who refuses to return your lost ball and warns us against playing near his house. Essentially, isolating themselves by shutting out others and the outside world from their lives.

While real-life Mr Fernandes may never cross paths with someone like Ila, this character undergoes a transformation within the film’s narrative. A widower with a perpetually stoic expression, Mr Fernandes initially seems unaffected by the world around him. However, as the story unfolds and Ila and he begin sharing their life stories through letters in the lunchbox, we witness a remarkable change in him. Anticipation, excitement and even the occasional smile start to surface on his face as he waits for Ila’s letters and the delicious meals she sends. “I think we forget things if there is nobody to tell them,” is how Mr Fernandes describes his lonely state of mindset to Ila and we couldn’t help but silently take in the profoundness of this statement.

The papable happiness on Irrfan's character Mr Fernandes face after receiving Ila's letters was unmissable in The Lunchbox. The palpable happiness on Irrfan’s character Mr Fernandes face after receiving Ila’s letters was unmissable in The Lunchbox.

A hustler doesn’t know failure

Annoying at first, the character of Shaikh (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) teaches us the art of persistence. Despite warnings from colleagues that Mr Fernandes won’t mentor him, Shaikh consistently arrives at his desk each morning with unwavering enthusiasm. Fernandes’ cold behaviour doesn’t deter Shaikh and he announces in one scene, “Mera naam Aslam Shaikh hai sir, main anaath hun, apna naam bhi maine khud hi rakha hai aur maine ye kaam bhi khud he sikh luga (My name is Aslam Shaikh, I am an orphan, I have chosen my name and I will learn this job myself ).”

Shaikh soon realises that empty flattery won’t win Fernandes over; it’s his honesty that the old man truly appreciates. Beyond forging a professional connection with Fernandes, a man most office colleagues avoid, Shaikh goes the extra mile by hosting him for dinner and building a personal rapport. Fernandes’ interactions with Shaikh evoke memories of characters created by novelist Fredrik Backman, where often, a gruff, old individual is resurrected from their grief-stricken loneliness by an intruding yet enduring young figure. Tom Hanks portrayed one such character in his 2022 film, A Man Called Otto, based on Backman’s beloved book, A Man Called Ove.

Nawazuddin Siddiqui's Shaikh is a pure hustler in The Lunchbox. Nawazuddin Siddiqui’s Shaikh is a pure hustler in The Lunchbox.

Happily Ever After is a myth

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The Lunchbox compellingly shatters the notion of a fairy-tale “happily ever after”. Ila, who carries a lot of love within her, devotes herself entirely to her husband and daughter, neglecting to reserve any affection for herself. Later, upon discovering her husband’s infidelity, she tries to channel her affection towards Mr Fernandes in pursuit of happiness through another person.

It’s a transformative moment when Ila witnesses her widowed mother experience newfound freedom following the passing of her bedridden father. Rather than mourning her husband’s death, Ila’s mother openly expresses her ‘disgust’ for the mundane aspects of married life. She candidly remarks, “I used to wonder what would become of me after his death, but now I simply feel hungry.” Seeing her mother, Ila realises that the idea of a secure marriage is a myth and it is not worth sacrificing your own happiness.

Nimrat Kaur's Ila realises that secure marriage is a myth when she sees her mother's unexpected reaction after her father's death. Nimrat Kaur’s Ila realises that secure marriage is a myth when she sees her mother’s unexpected reaction after her father’s death.

After winning the Critics Week Viewers Choice Award also known as Grand Rail d’Or, The Lunchbox was released in India to raving reviews. The film was a huge success at the box office, making it the second-highest grossing Hindi film of Irrfan’s career after Hindi Medium. While many us don’t (and will not) remember the awards and money The Lunchbox minted, but we do (and will) remember the ever-lasting impact this film has on us.

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