Saturday, May 10, 2014

The Lunchbox and the argument for self-reflection.

The pointlessness of consumption starts to hit home when the DVDs you've hauled from half-way across the globe gather dust as you're so preoccupied with life and other interests that you've got. Believe you me, I don't mean to abandon Indian movies without much warning every 18 months or so - it just happens. And then I rush back in, flushed with new-found excitement. The love is always there, in a way, even when the blog is dead and the DVD player abandoned. I just get so tired, tired with the mediocrity, tired with the dullness of the Bengali art picture I'm forcing myself to sit through just because, tired of waiting for DVDs to come out, tired of the vapid jokes made on Koffee with Karan. So I leave, and then I come back.

I should have, of course, returned much earlier, as the brilliant Dabba (or The Lunchbox, as it's so widely known internationally now) arrived in Finnish cinemas a little over a month ago. I always wanted to see it, and I don't even feel like the film suffered from praise overload. It is a darling film, full of little flavors and notes to pick up on, well-directed and written, and with captivating performances and gentle comedic touches. It's got Irrfan Khan, ambassador of Indian acting to the western world, and Nawazuddin Siddiqui, the new can-do-no-wrong actor, and Nimrat Kaur, a shockingly fantastic newer find.

It's hard to disagree that this should've been India's Oscar hopeful, as even if you find the film bland and overrated, its gentle love story, culture-specific setting (the dabbawallahs' uncharacteristic mistake setting the scene for the exchange of letters), its feel-good vibes and lack of songs included, would have made it the perfect film for that particular audience. Even a month after its initial release, the screening on an early evening was weirdly full - this film is catching considerable word of mouth even in my northern corner of the globe, and I have no doubt Oscar buzz would've helped this along further. But just as well, and I'm happy it's getting such wide international recognition, even without being pitched to the Academy.

So it's a good film, and a joy to sit through, but what I found most important about the film was that it really made me reflect on life. As most good love stories, the one in Dabba is ultimately about something greater than the connection between two people. Saajan (Irrfan) and Ila (Nimrat Kaur) are tiptoeing into a connection with their exchanged messages, and as with any two unhappy people who connect over their unhappiness, their exchanges soon become about their lives itself - what they want, what they don't want, and what they can expect from the future. It's only natural that the viewer also finds themselves asking similar questions - especially if they're relatively young, or with their life in flux, or going through a rough time, or even if they're older, like Saajan, and looking back on their past experiences.

I found myself wondering all of these things, and then arguing with myself - maybe these questions aren't really as tough as one might, in their bourgeois angst, think. After all, endless pondering about life and ourselves, our direction or our happiness, can put a person in a state of utter confusion, that can be only medicated by being marketed self-help in form of books and life style magazines and co-opted philosophies. The Lunchbox seems to also posit that this self-reflection can be rather middle class. Do the dabbawallahs themselves ponder these things? Maybe, but maybe they move on quicker than some of us. There is, in essence, much common sense in the character of Shaikh (Siddiqui), whose description of an ordinary day, full of work but also of little joys, really hit home for me. In a complicated world, simplicity can be the greatest treasure of all, even as I roll my eyes at what a cliché that sounds like. Pessimism remains my affliction.

Such is the beauty of cinema, and of all stories, really. They inspire us to see beyond what is just on the page, and consider ourselves in reflection to the characters. It's not that a film has to be deep to inspire such thoughts, it merely has to be compelling and believable as a story. And while I can't say The Lunchbox became an instant all-time favourite, I appreciate it because it certainly inspired me in many ways, and that's so much more than most films manage to do.

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