There are so many food stories begging to be told right here in our country. Pankaja Srinivasan hopes delicious fare such as The Lunchbox will soon become the norm rather than the exception
There is kofta for lunch. Rich brown gravy, with a dash of dhaniya patta on top. The next day it is yellow kadhi with pakodas and brinjal subzi. The chappatis look soft. Every day roti, rice and two subzis are ladled into shiny steel dabbas, the whole thing then put inside a green-blue zippered bag, and kept ready for a dabba wallah to pick it up and deliver it to the hungry man waiting on the other side of the city…
That is pretty much the simple story of The Lunchbox, about a dabba that is delivered to a wrong destination and the ripples that creates in the lives of ordinary people.
Every time Irfan Khan opens up the tiffin box, we crane our necks. What is in the dabba today? When Nimrat Kaur rinses the plump, purple baingan, we know we are in for a treat. And when she listens to the recipe of paneer butter masala on the radio, we secretly hope she is going to try that out next. We learn she loves the keema pav in a certain restaurant, we wonder what he loves so much about baingan ki subzi. Nawazuddin Siddiqui tells us he makes a mean mutton pasanda…Remember the number of times we have made ourselves a quick cup of tea before settling down to a looked-forward-to activity? Just so we can postpone the pleasure of reading a book or watching a movie… so much of delicious anticipation. Nimrat does the very same. She knows there is a letter waiting for her in the dabba, but she holds back long enough to make a cup of tea for herself and then sits down to savour the note as much as the chai! There is so much reference to glorious food in the film. I thought Bollywood was incapable of making a Julie And Julia or a Chocolat (Stanley Ka Dabba is a great exception). But now, I eat my words, happily.
Why can’t we have more food movies? Just imagine all the stories that can be woven around food, right here in our country. I remember hunkering down in an old agraharam house with sunlight streaming in from a skylight, watching a bunch of mamis making Deepavali bakshanams (snacks). It was unforgettable. The oil hissed and bubbled, the bangles tinkled, and there were bursts of exclamation and laughter as they updated each other on some serials. Then, there was a magnificent finale — when a paati, even as she dipped a long-handled spoon into the oil to take out golden, fried murukkus burst into a song — ‘Kurai Ondrum Illai’. So many stories right there, bound together by a murukku.
Imagine a rags-to-riches story on the chaat wallah on Shahjahan Road in Delhi who they say has become a millionaire. Or about old Mr. Eapen in Coonoor who talked to his plants and made jams and wines from the produce he grew there. What about the two ladies who stand in a blue-grey coat behind the counter and turn out the softest, tastiest kozhakattais from four in the evening at Adyar Ananda Bhavan? What about all those places where time has stood still for more than a hundred years where food is made pretty much the same way it was when they began… the family pickle shop in Coimbatore’s Town Hall, the iruttu kadai in Tirunelveli or the Crown Bakery in Coonoor?
What a great setting these would be for a family drama or a whodunit (why not?) or just a simple story of people who love to cook and eat! Is Ritesh Batra listening?