CANTEEN CULTURE | The Lunchbox

The Lunchbox is (among plenty else) a rallying cry against the al-desko lunch. By Louis Rogers

 

Lunch breaks are political things. Across the world, eating habits are changing – or more accurately, constricting – in response to a perceived scarcity of time. Capitalism is closing in on the last unconquered frontiers: those remaining hours in which we sleep, rest, eat. Lunch doesn’t fit into a schema of constant productivity; it is, as Jonathun Nunn writes in his newsletter Vittles, “an irritant particle in the cogs of capital that drive the working day”. 

In The Lunchbox, accountant Saajan Fernandes is able to keep his lunch break sacrosanct, dismissing a trainee who interrupts it and telling him to come back no sooner than 4:45. Further political dimensions are at work here: while Saajan enjoys a hot meal delivered by a chain of workers across Mumbai, his trainee simply eats two bananas. Economic disparities and aspirations are laid bare in the theatre of the canteen. 

Withstanding these complications, Saajan’s lunch break still carries a subversive charge as it refuses to submit to the excessive demands of the working day. It is within these lunch breaks that Saajan forms an unconventional and nonconformist relationship with Ila, the woman who makes the meals and lives an entirely separate life on the other side of Mumbai. Temporally, as well as socially, their relationship is established outside the parameters of convention and capital. It’s also during these lunch breaks that a tender friendship eventually forms between Saajan and his trainee. 

If the eponymous lunchbox is harbinger of the unexpected connections the film celebrates – “sometimes the wrong train will get you to the right station” – then the lunch break is the faintly magical arena that permits them. The Lunchbox is (among plenty else) a rallying cry against the al-desko lunch. Take your full hour! Eschew Pret! Share your meal! Fall in love! These are salient messages indeed for cinema to offer a population as it begins the steady troop back toward the office.

 

The Lunchbox is available to stream as part of TANK’s season SCULPTING IN TIME. Subscribe for just £3 a month for access to 40+ films throughout the year.