In India, a very unique system exists for delivering hot, home-cooked lunches to 130,000 workers in the city of Mumbai. Six days per week, these lunch boxes arrive at the offices of loved ones within 6 hours of being made by family members. By midmorning, these personal dishes are handed over to the “dabbawallahs” - the delivery people charged with this mind-boggling task. These lunches must make over 260,000 transitions during the day to get the right food to the right person. Adding to the complexity of the task is that each lunchbox is nondescript, sporting no return address labels, and all must be given back to the proper family later that afternoon.
This dabbawallah system, using memorization from its 5,000 workers, has been studied by the Harvard Business School for its ability to provide such accurate, timely customer service to so many people. While the mistakes are extremely rare (1 in a million according to the Harvard study), when they do occur it can lead to confusion, a lack of understanding and, yes, even a movie.
This film follows a billing accountant named Saajan Fernandes, who has been doing his job for the government of India for 35 years and is nearing retirement. One day, Fernandes mistakenly receives the lunchbox from a wife trying to impress her husband with a new recipe. At this point, the film further examines both of these characters’ lives and how they became entangled with one another.
This film from India was released late last year, following a well-received rollout at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival. However, “The Lunchbox” did not make its debut in the United States until February of this year. Due to its limited showings in few theaters, many moviegoers have not had the opportunity to see this movie. With the movie gaining critical acclaim on almost every continent, “The Lunchbox” has now been released to more theaters nationwide in the U.S.
“The Lunchbox” feels like a documentary at times, with painstakingly slow moments wedged between chicken tikka masala and naan bread recipes. The movie’s dialogue is in the local Hindi language with English subtitles. Patient moviegoers who can appreciate foreign cultures and unique customs will be treated to an Indian feast. When the dabba (lunchbox) delivery system breaks down it provides two people an unexpected connection. While these characters are from different generations they share a similar loneliness. It’s this fortuitous exchange of a lunchbox that facilitates an intimate relationship involving the sharing of secrets with a stranger. “The Lunchbox” proves that sometimes the wrong train takes you to the right destination. This film’s ingredients make for an interesting recipe of intrigue and happenstance, along with just a sprinkle of romance thrown on top.