by Ritesh Batra
One of Mumbai's miracles is the lunchbox delivery phenomenon. Mumbai's Dabbawallahs are a community of 5000 dabba (lunchbox) deliverymen. It is a hereditary profession. Every morning the Dabbawallahs deliver hot meals from the kitchens of housewives to the offices of their husbands, and then return the empty lunchboxes back to the homes in the afternoon. For 120 years they have provided Mumbaikars with a taste of home in the office. They navigate through the overcrowded local trains, and chaotic streets - that often have a namesake or more than one name. The Dabbawallahs are illiterate; they use a complex coding system of colors and symbols to deliver dabbas in the labyrinth that is Mumbai. Harvard University analyzed their delivery system, and concluded that just one in 4 million lunchboxes is ever delivered to the wrong address. ‘Dabba' is the story of that one lunchbox.
A wrongly delivered lunchbox connects a housewife - Ila Vaid, to Saajan Fernandes, a lonely man in the dusk of his life. Ila lives in Kandivili, the conservative middle class Hindu enclave. And Saajan lives in Ranwar village, Bandra, an old Christian neighborhood that is threatened by the new high rises of Mumbai. Very soon Saajan will retire and bid goodbye to a Mumbai that crushed his dreams, took away his loved ones one by one, and turned his hair white. Just then Ila comes into his life. In the big city, that crushes dreams and recycles them everyday, both find a dream to hold on to. They exchange notes in the lunchbox and create a fantasy life. As the lunchbox goes back and forth, this fantasy becomes so elaborate that it threatens to overwhelm their reality.
The characters of THE LUNCHBOX exist on the line between the Mumbai of reality and the Mumbai of fantasy. In the end, they come to a crossroads where they must choose between the two Worlds. THE LUNCHBOX is the story of nostalgia and of hope for the future, and above all, of the small joys of life that need our attention.
Ritesh Batra is a writer/director based in Mumbai and New York. In 2009, Batra was selected for the Sundance Writers and Directors labs for his feature project “The Story of Ram”. He was also named the Sundance Time Warner Storytelling Fellow and an Annenburg Fellow. He was part of the Graduate Film Program at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, from which he dropped out in 2010. His short films have been presented in many international film festivals and fine arts venues. His recent short “Café Regular, Cairo”, shot on location in Cairo, Egypt was featured in the 2012 Inter- national Film Festival of Rotterdam, and will be also be featured in the 2012 Tribeca Film Festival. His upcoming short ‘The State of Siege’ is currently in post-production.
His new feature screenplay THE LUNCHBOX was part of the 2011 Binger-NFDC Screenwriting Lab, it won an Honorable Mention from the Jury at the 2012 edition of the Cin- emart at the International Film Festival of Rotterdam and was part of the Berlinale Talent Project Market. THE LUNCHBOX will be shot on location in Mumbai in late 2012.