Travel Adventure Documentary Magazine
Travel Adventure Documentary magazine
where filmmakers and exhibitors meet

Dabbawallahs

Willis Moore Posted by Willis Moore in Blogs May 21st, 2014

 Each day in Mumbai 4000 men in white outfits and matching hats transport 175,000 lunches across the big city. They retrieve the tiffens (lunch containers) of food from mothers and wives, and bring them (by foot, train, bicycle and even carried on top of their heads) to the office buildings of waiting husbands and sons.

The Dabba Wallas deliver lunches by by foot,
train, bicycles and head
The Dabba Wallas have been doing this since the late 1800s. Despite the unsophisticated mode of transport, the lunches always arrive on time (the error rate is 1 in every 16 million transactions). It's a pretty impressive feat and we were lucky enough to follow a couple Dabba Wallas for a day in Mumbai, and see their work first hand.
 
Some months after the successful Slum Dog Millionaire, comes a film by Ritesh Batra with much to commend it.  Begun as a documentary about the Dabbawallahs of Mumbai, the lunchbox delivery service to hundreds of thousands of workers in Mumbai, it became (with Sun Dance Institute money) much more.
The Lunchbox, currently playing in "selected theatres", is an honest look at Mumbai today, its smog, crowds, traffic, and its charms.  The filmmaker, for instance, says a lot with his "back porch" set overlooking the neighbors' meals, and children playing cricket in the street.  Mumbai is one of two cities in India with more than 20 million inhabitants, yet it seems to work - - in its own creaky ways.
The documentary part about the Dabbawallahs is handled quite nicely.  These illiterate men have been delivering lunches to office workers for more than a century - - and they are incredibly accurate in getting the right lunch to the intended person.  This film takes the "one in a million" mistakes, however, and tells a story.
 
Irrfan Khan plays Saajan and Nimrat Kaur
plays the young house wife lla
Quite different from the "Bollywood" format of so many India films, this film raises some human and societal questions rarely raised in Indian cinema.

 
Irrfan Khan
(Life of PI) is simply an incredible actor with subtleties rarely seen, playing a bored, soon-to-retire government functionary.  Nimrat Kaur is not only beautiful, she playing the sad role of a woman in modern day India with great charm, beauty, and talent.
Many topics are dealt with in this film:  Khan plays a Portuguese/Indian whose wife was Christian, a Muslim new hire is deftly portrayed by Nawazzudin Siddiqui, and the whole issue of marriage, children, life in general provides much to think about.


 

 

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