Could a Warm, Home-Cooked Meal Thaw a Frozen Heart?
by Christian Villacres
“You are young. You can dream. And for some time you let me into your dreams. And I want to thank you for that.” (Saajan Fernandes)
The 2013 film, The Lunchbox, recounts the story of Saajan Fernandes, an emotionally dejected man, who has distanced himself from the rest of society following the death of his wife. At the commencement of the story, Saajan is about to retire from his position as an accountant, a position that he has held for twenty-five years. Before he leaves the company, he is tasked with training a young man, named Shaikh, to replace him. Coinciding with these events, Ila is a young wife trying desperately to regain the affection of her neglectful husband by impressing him with her delicious packed lunches. Through an unlikely mix-up, however, Ila’s love-imbued, home-cooked meals are mistakenly delivered to Saajan instead. The sharing of food between Saajan and Ila doubles as a sharing of sentiment, and eventually the pair form a supportive bond. In fact, it is this very food that breathes a rejuvenating air into the lives of both Saajan and Ila. Observable through the facets of everyday life, this bond allows the pair to regain control over their lives.
Shaikh’s cheery and friendly nature perfectly juxtaposes Saajan’s despondent outlook on life. For this reason, it is no surprise that from the moment the two men met, Saajan found Shaikh to be quite nettlesome. In fact, early on in the film, Saajan would go great lengths in order to avoid having to interact with Shaikh in any manner. This system of avoidance and indifference was one that Saajan applied to several other aspects of his life. For instance, Saajan is depicted as being rather cold towards children, and in one scene even refused to return a cricket ball that had landed on his balcony to a group of young children playing in the street. However, it was Shaikh who made Saajan realize that this game of office ‘hide and seek’ could not continue, as, after all, Shaikh was supposed to be his replacement, and had received no prior training. This scene shows that Saajan fits the crotchety, old neighbor archetype perfectly. It seems as if Saajan will live the rest of his days this way. That is until he begins receiving the packed lunches from Ila, and this is where the true transformation begins.
From the first day Saajan mistakenly receives one of Ila’s packed lunches, an immediate change can be noticed in him. Having grown accustomed to the monotonous, lackluster food he had been receiving from a paid service, Saajan was staggered upon taking the first bite of Ila’s home-cooked meal. His joy is apparent, as he hurriedly devours the entire meal, and he is so impressed, in fact, that he makes a trip to the kitchen he usually receives his food from and personally requests that they continue to cook food of that quality. From this point on, Saajan begins to undergo an emotional metamorphosis. With every day, a new packed lunch from Ila is delivered to Saajan, and he gradually abandons his dreary manner. The cinematography utilized at this point in the film visibly reflects this turning point in Saajan’s life, as from that point on the film gains a brighter, more lively filter.
This outwards transformation is most apparent through the development of his relationship with Shaikh. One day, Shaikh decides to start having lunch with Saajan. Seeing that Shaikh had a paltry lunch every day, Saajan began to share his home-cooked meal, and it is almost as if he is sharing a personal treasure with Shaikh. This change in character can be encapsulated in this medium shot still of Shaikh and Saajan sharing a meal. In this shot the lighting is bright, and Saajan is smiling. These two details make Saajan seem absolutely radiant, and this change is apparent, as Shaikh whimsically comments that he is glowing, as if he had just discovered a flowering love. A similar shot was taken earlier in the movie of Shaikh and Saajan sharing a meal. The tone of the earlier shot, however, is far more glum, which can be attributed to the more bleak cinematography utilized in this shot. The change in cinematography between the two shots signalizes the transition Saajan makes from an unhappy life to a more fulfilling one.
The second, deeper change Saajan experienced was caused by the bond he formed with Ila over the course of the movie. This bond began simply. At first, Saajan was just happy finally to have a good meal, and Ila was happy that someone was appreciative of her cooking. This relationship soon blossomed, however, into something far more complex and meaningful. Through the passing of notes within the lunchbox, Ila and Saajan offer each other a glimpse into their lives. The two become reliant on one another and help each other realize why their lives have been wrought with unhappiness. Near the end of the movie, this bond was on the verge of becoming something completely different. Was it romance? Was Saajan in love, or was he just longing for what he once had? Was Ila in love, or was she just longing for something she had never had? The audience is left having to make assumptions to answer these questions, but one thing we know for sure is that: yes, a warm, home-cooked meal can thaw a frozen heart.
Batra, Ritesh, Guneet Monga, Irrfan Khan, Nimrat Kaur, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, and Lillete Dubey. Sony Pictures Classics. The Lunchbox. 2014.