Over the past decades technology and globalization have increasingly leveled the playing field in terms of the cinematic quality of films across the globe. In turn, many foreign films, previously unique in form, have begun to gain an increasingly Hollywood aesthetic. This “Hollywood-ization” of foreign cinema is nowhere more evident in films like Italy’s The Double Hour, or France’s Heartbreaker. This year India shows it too has joined the global 1D aesthetic with The Lunchbox, an endearing film so local in story yet universal in theme.
This week you can find The Lunchbox playing at the ever-inspiring Clay Theatre on Fillmore St. A personal favorite and a city darling, the Clay is a theatre that feels like home. Sure its not pristine with reclining chairs and IMAX screens but if your palette leans towards the compelling as opposed to the explosive it’s pretty perfect. I feel that I’m preaching to the choir if anyone chances upon this blog but I will always prefer a theatre like the Clay over the sterility of the AMC chains and their psychedelic carpets. Built in 1910, this theatre is an art deco reminder that theatres were built for movies, not for gyms, so please do your civic duty every once in a while and buy concessions.
[Pictures to come soon]
When I mosey on over to the Clay I always like to take a long walk down Clay Street by Alta Plaza Park. Aren’t the homes on this street just amazing? I start fantasizing about England and Victorian interiors whenever I pass them and pray that the tenants haven’t gutted them. Which of course many of them rightfully do as old doesn’t always mean stable I know. It always feels like a shame when I see a film set in San Francisco featuring a Marina shot when such a darling little street with an equally impressive view is just a few blocks south.
Oh, so back to The Lunchbox!
We come into the story at two important junctures in our character’s lives, Saajan being at the end of a long career and the Ila in the midst of early marital trials and tribulations. A “meet-cute” brings them together just when they both find themselves in need of an anchor.
As Saajan, actor Irffan Khan is always a revelation in his ability to convey such humanity with great restraint. However, it is the breakout actress who brings the viewer to their knees. Nimrat Kaur is able to take her limited space and make a world out of it. Her intonation alone breaks Saajan’s emotional walls. She is of course no newcomer to Indian audiences but her international introduction couldn’t be better. By the end of the film I felt all I miss about classic cinema. You know, a little indulgence, nostalgia, and leaving the theatre with a warm smile. It never gets old.
The beauty of this film is that the story couldn’t happen anywhere else. It is a uniquely Indian, and to that extent Mumbai-made, film and director Ritesh Batra exerts such control to make the film hit home all the way on the corner of Fillmore and Clay. The film is both nostalgic for grand cinematic romance and modern in its portrayal of the changing mores of Indian society from within.
This change is no more present than in the portrayal of the dabbawalas at the center of our story. This complex delivery system of collecting lunch boxes from residences of workers, delivering to offices, and then returning to their homes is world renowned for its accuracy and strangeness. Yet it’s the one instant in which a mistake is made that serves as the catalyst for a whole new life for our characters. Without human error The Lunchbox couldn’t have happened and we wouldn’t be charmed off our feet by Irffan Khan right now.
A friend of mine remarked that many Indian Americans use similar services in the South Bay for lunch, which is an ingenious idea. Dear hip San Franciscans, can we please make this happen because I am not the greatest cook nor do I have much of a lunch hour? It would be amazing to get the home cooked feel of Abuelita’s pozole at lunch. The kind lacking in the canned variety feel or overflowing with bones as some Mission street eateries often do. Topped with fresh onions, cilantro and lime! I digress.
The Lunchbox made me wish I had someone to make lunch for and send hidden notes to. If only I made lunch. If only my significant other’s company didn’t have a lunch truck. If only I was in India! By the end of the film I was rampant with starvation.
Just across the street from the Clay Theatre is just what I needed! Mehfil Indian Cuisine to the rescue! A few large orders later I felt I got the whole experience. Leftovers for the office tomorrow as well! No delivery needed.