Q&A: Ritesh Batra, director of “The Lunchbox”
Mumbai is the unique birthplace of a daily lunch delivery system that delivers freshly cooked meals from housewives to their working spouses. In the film “The Lunchbox,” a mishap lands one such lunchbox in the hands of the wrong client. Out of this accident develops an unlikely, but rewarding relationship.
“The Lunchbox” was screened at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival where it won the Critics Week Viewer’s Choice award. Director Ritesh Batra talked to The Eagle’s Helen Hu about the making of the film.
Eagle: How did you first become interested in the concept of “The Lunchbox” delivery system and what would you say was your inspiration for making the movie?
Ritesh Batra: I was going to make a documentary about the dabbawala—the lunchbox delivery men. So I embedded myself with them for a couple of weeks, and we became friends in that process. They told me these stories of housewives they would pick up the lunchboxes from, like this one takes too long because she tries [cooking] something new every day, things like that. So I just became more interested in those stories. And yeah, so it started from there.
E: I know you’ve done some shorter films in the past. Was it very different going from making shorter films to the longer feature films?
RB: Yes, it’s a different ballgame in the sense that it takes a lot of emotional stamina, you know, 29-30 days of a shoot as opposed to a week. It’s the scale, a bigger team, it’s a real enterprise.
E: What was the production and casting process like for you?
RB: The casting process was very long and sort of involved, because you want to cast the right actors and so much of the directing is the casting. It’s 80 percent of the job in the casting. For every part, you want the leads to be believed. So Irfan who plays Saajan and Nawa who plays Shaikh, those two I always wanted, everyone else we cast for a while.
E:What was the reception like, internationally and back home in India?
RB: It’s been a real blessing because the film’s doing really well. In India, it released in September, and it was in theaters for many weeks. The film released in Europe in October and November, and it’s still in theaters in all the countries it’s released in.
E: What would you say you want the audience to take away from the movie?
RB: I get this question a lot. It’s so difficult because there’s no message as such, it’s really about people bringing their lives to the movie. I hope they see something of themselves in the characters and that’s all you can really hope for.
E: Did you have any films that you liked from 2013 or that you were inspired by?
RB: Lots. Just being in festivals with other filmmakers has been a real honor. I loved “The Past,” Asghar Farhadi’s movie. I loved “Labor Day.” I loved “Nebraska,” “American Hustle.” Lots of good movies out this year.
E: What do you have lined for the future? What are you working on next?
RB: I am trying to write something that’s set in Bombay. I’m reading lots of books and scripts. [For now] I’m just supporting the film. Promoting the film is a full-time job, I hope when it’s over I can sit down and write.
“The Lunchbox” will open in theaters in February.
This interview has been edited for clarity and content.