Cinema There are so many food-related stories begging to be told right here in our country. Delicious fare such as The Lunchbox must 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 dabbawallah 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 , where the dabba is delivered to a wrong destination and the ripples that it creates in the lives of ordinary people.

Every time Irrfan Khan opens up the tiffin box, we crane our necks. What is in the dabba today? When Nimrat Kaur rinses the plump, purple brinjal, 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 just that. She knows there is a letter waiting for her in the dabba, but she holds back long enough to make 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. Why can’t we have more films like this? Stanley Ka Dabba is a great exception but I thought Bollywood was incapable of making a Julie and Julia or a Chocolat. But now, I eat my words, happily.

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. 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 an old paati, even as she dipped a long-handled spoon into the oil to take out the golden, fried murukkus burst into a song, kurai ondrum illai . So many stories right there, bound together by murukkus. Imagine a rags-to-riches story on the chatwallah on Shahjahan Road in Delhi who, they say, has become a millionaire.

Or how 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 their blue-grey coats behind the counter and turn out the softest, tastiest kozhukattais 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 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?

PANKAJA SRINIVASAN

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