Interview by Laura van Zuylen
In The Lunchbox two people from different class and backgrounds find in each other a confidant by an error in Bombay’s lunchbox system. Has a lunchbox ever has been wrongly delivered?
I was working on a documentary about Mumbai’s 125-year-old lunchbox delivery- system and the statistics show that only one in a million lunchboxes is ever delivered to the wrong address. The procurers told me little stories about the houses where they picked them up and their occupants: one woman cooks something new every day, other ́s smell the same every day. I got struck by the idea of an error in the system and realized: this would never happen, but what if it did. Simultaneously the question arose whether the delivery to the wrong address would be a mistake or a miracle.
The characters live in an environment with no computers and are text-messaging on paper, using these lunchboxes – in fact the film is quite nostalgic. Why is that an interesting topic for a young director like you?
I am only thirty-three, but I think I am an old soul; all my friends are old. The idea of age has always fascinated me. When I was growing up I would go into the shower and there was as specific smell, spread by my father. Then two years ago I went into my own bathroom and I noticed the same sent. Then I realized how much alike my dad and I are. That is why more than anything else The Lunchbox is about time: the characters are reconnecting to their surroundings through nostalgia. In India things have changed so fast in the last two decades and we have not had the time to process that. These two people do not fit into the present time; they are left behind.
The lunchbox-system is very specific to Bombay. Why are your creative collaborators and financial sources so remarkably international?
Working with an international crew came natural to me. After growing up Mumbai I went to film school in NYU, where I quit after getting into the Sundance Lab. The shorts I made afterwards travelled all over the world. For this film the economics were tied to the creative contribution. To be honest to the story, the lives of these characters needed to unfold slowly. Aesthetically that fits more naturally into the tradition of Europe or America.
India is marked by an explosion of sounds and colours and the professionals are used to an exaggerated style. So if I would team up with them, I would be working against the aesthetics they are used to. I did not want such a collaboration. In India we need to trust our audiences more: there are one billion people in India, and they will not all come to see this film, but we do have to start realizing that it is okay to make movies with a different tone and style. At the same time I think that, more than Bollywood, this is a story that might speak to six billion people: the locality and specificity makes it universal
This interview was originally published in Nisimazine Cannes 2013 e-book.