Monday, September 30, 2013

Cretin ka Lunchbox

Even if you haven't seen The Lunchbox yet, you probably already know that it is one of the sweetest, subtlest films to hit the theatres in recent times, with seasoned actor Irrfan Khan, the performer of the season Nawazuddin Siddiqui and newcomer Namit Kaur pitching in well-rounded performances. The story of two strangers connecting through letters sent via a lunchbox pulls at your heartstrings in this internet age and only a cretin would say anything but the nicest words for such a rare cinematic gem.

So let me first tell you a bit about the cretin writing this. You know those sharp, driven career women, brilliant as students and sparkling with talent as they enter the job market? I'm not one of them. I've bunked classes, flunked exams, dropped out of one college, just about managed to graduate, and changed jobs with the tenacity of a software engineer (minus the salary hikes) before landing my present position, about 3 years ago. Yet, in all those years of underachievement, it never once occurred to me to not have a career and just 'settle down'. Having a job or working towards it has always felt like a natural state.

Which is why I find it hard to relate to women like Illa from The Lunchbox. It's not that the job of a housewife is any easier than that of a working woman. I know I'd make a lousy housewife. What I fail to comprehend is Illa's utter lack of options. What compels her to be and remain such a doormat? Would her life and her status in the household be any different (for better or worse) if she had a little financial independence? Would she then have so quietly tolerated the fact that her husband was having an affair? Is it her personality or her circumstances that she cannot see any choices between quietly accepting her lot and running off to Bhutan?

Elsewhere in the cinematic universe, we have met women like Sasi of English Vinglish and Pooja in Arth.

Sasi's family is unappreciative of her prowess as efficient homemaker and beautiful cook, but she has the good sense to leverage her culinary skills for a small business. In time we realize that in their own unspoken way, her family does respect the skill and hard work that goes into whipping up a delicious dessert.

Pooja, who has apparently never learnt to fend for herself in the big bad world, nor has the impressive qualifications that would have employers lap her up, would still rather go through the ordeal of living in a seedy women's hostel and struggling for a respectable job than go back to a cheating husband.

Neither of these women, nor the number of women I know in real life who made difficult choices rather than trade their dignity for the uneasy comforts within a broken marriage, have ever had it easy. There are practical and emotional challenges, social pressures and/or financial hurdles to be negotiated, depending on the choices they made. While I do appreciate that in the real world you are more likely to meet an Illa than a Pooja - the cretin that I am - I would rather go to the movies to see the latter.

That is why, one of the most beautifully mounted films in recent times falls just short of touching a chord with me. This may also be because in the past few years, as a viewer I have been spoilt by a bunch of very talented filmmakers churning out some really polished products, with beautiful stories and well-rounded characters whose motivations are very clearly understandable. It maybe that the slice of life feel of the film, the camera's eye for detail, the nuanced performances at the service of this film are fast becoming the norm rather than a rare treat in Indian cinema. But mostly, I just feel a bit let down because I thought we had moved on from the Abala Naari narrative long, long ago.

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