Movies and food are two of the things we do best at SBS, and you can now enjoy the best of both worlds in this new column matching delicious recipes with soul-nourishing films.
Sandra Beeston

12 May 2017 - 2:43 PM  UPDATED 7 Dec 2020 - 4:59 PM

Set against the backdrop of Mumbai's famously efficient lunchbox delivery system run by dabbawalas (or tiffin wallahs), this beautiful film tells the story of two lonely people (Nimrat Kaur and Irrfan Khan, both superb), whose paths should never have crossed.

However, a one-in-a million mistake sees a meal made lovingly by young housewife Ila for her husband land on the desk of depressed accountant and widower, Saajan.

The latter is pleasantly surprised by this tasty lunch, which is of much better quality than what he's used to getting from his usual caterer, and savours each bite with utter delight. He's far from imagining that this elaborate meal comes from the young woman's desperate attempt to salvage her marriage.

When the lunchbox is returned to Ila's licked clean, she finds herself hoping her husband is finally showing her a bit of appreciation, but after requesting his feedback and hurting herself to a wall of indifference, she soon realises he wasn't the one who enjoyed her food that day.

She decides to enclose a thank you letter for the stranger in the following lunchbox, a paneer kofta curry in which she puts as much care preparing as the previous meal.

This first exchange marks the start of an epistolary relationship via tiffin boxes between Ila and Saajan, and as each day passes, Saajan is increasingly looking forward to the food and the words sent by the young woman.

In one particular scene, as soon as the lunchbox lands on his desk, Saajan buries his nose in it, breathing in the appetising smells in anticipation, and eventually finds himself unable to wait until lunch time to open it, taking an early mark to finally dig into it.

Over time, the two progressively open up about their loneliness and fears facing with an uncertain future: in the case of Ila, having to decide to stay or not in a loveless marriage, while for Saajan, it's the prospect of becoming irrelevant as retirement nears that weighs on his mind.

Whether this blossoming virtual friendship could lead to something more is of course the main question posed by this bitter-sweet romantic comedy, but one take-away of the film is also the unique bond and intimacy that food manages to create between strangers.

Far from the flamboyant Bollywood fare, The Lunchbox is a slow-burning, understated gem, peppered with humour (brought by Ila's invisible auntie, and Sajan's future replacement at work), and it will stay with you long after the credits roll.


Watch 'The Lunchbox':

Read ★★★★ review


The Lunchbox will also certainly spark in you irresistible cravings for Indian food... and that's where our colleagues from SBS Food can help. Much like the movie itself, this beautiful, simple dahl will warm your heart, and be the perfect accompaniment for your viewing experience.

Find this recipe at SBS Food:

Black lentils (kaali dal)

बोन अप्पेतित!

Want more Indian food in your life?

Watch our daily cooking show The Chef's Line, which from May 14th to the 19th will be entirely dedicated to Indian food, and will see passionate home cooks compete against the chefs from acclaimed Melbourne restaurant Tonka. More info on The Chef's Line program page

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