Rating : 7/10
Release Date : 20th September, 2013
Time : 109 minutes
Director & Writer : Ritesh Batra; Music : Max Richter
Starring : Irrfan Khan, Nimrat Kaur, Nawazuddin Siddique, Lillette Dubey, Bharti Achrekar (voice of Aunty)
Its an excruciatingly slow film that teaches us invaluable lessons about marriage, growing old…perhaps patience is the third lesson – and after all isn’t it absolutely necessary to experience life the right way ?
Widower, Irrfan, about to retire in a month, leads a lonely existence. Works in insurance, has Nawazuddin lined up to take over his role. And suddenly, he begins receiving the wrong lunchbox. The one prepared by young Nimrat for her husband. Soon they start exchanging notes. Some brief. Some more expansive ones about their journeys and current tribulations. And soon, the notes are the most looked forward feature in each of their daily lives.
There is something curious about the institution of marriage. How you are literally locked up in a room with someone (in India, usually a stranger) and told to live the rest of your life with that person. You are expected to find love, companionship, romance and adventure – all with the same person – while at the same time taking care of the person, putting up with their little foibles (obsession with the telephone, TV, news etc).
It gets even stranger with old age. A mix of inflation, fatalism, no concern for fitness and lack of interests outside of work means most of us are hopelessly unprepared for life after retirement – either financially or mentally. And here too, the spouse is supposed to selflessly, without care for her own life or needs, devote themselves to taking care of you…and it is expected – to not do so would be considered an inappropriate deviation
The story progresses in a leisurely manner, filled with little gems of moments. The relationship between the upstairs Aunty (never seen but voiced with great nuance by Bharti Achrekar) and Nimrat – with a basket going up and down carrying goods and sage advice. The discussion about traffic, commuting standing up and vertical burials. The getting ready for an unnoticing husband. Irrfan’s brief and critical response to the delicious lunchbox when he gets a note for the first time (which reminded me of a scene involving Obelix from Asterix and The Gladiator, if memory serves me right). The eager Nawaz, self-taught, under-equipped for the job but keen to learn, keen to progress (he even chops his vegetables on the train) and keen to strike up a relationship with the reclusive Irrfan. The same song playing on the train and in Nimrat’s home. Bhutan and the mystique around its Gross National Happiness. The old cassettes, video and audio, full of memories.
The film does move very slowly- sometimes more than necessary and hence a second viewing within a short span of time is unlikely (one of my key criteria for a higher rating). Some of the things the characters do don’t make sense. But the performances are spot on and help sweep such doubts under the carpet. Its great to see Irrfan and Nawazuddin together – one deadpan and the other managing to communicate a lot more but without any histrionics. Nimrat is a revelation – found her outstanding and hope we see a lot more of her.
There were also two statements – one repeated a few times – which sum up the movies philosophy about life and its strange ways. One is that sometimes getting on a wrong train can lead you to the right destination. And the other is that no one buys yesterdays lottery ticket…