It’s no secret that Irrfan Khan and Nimrat Kaur gave a crackling performance in the delectable romance The Lunchbox.
But it was the food served in that tiffin box that made this love story so piquant. As much as we rooted for the bored housewife Ila (Kaur) to find true love with ageing accountant Saajan (Khan), we as interested in seeing what she had lovingly packed in the lunchbox meant for her husband each day. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself drooling when Saajan takes a bite of the glossy aubergine stir fry. But creating that scene on camera was a “scary experience”, said the film’s food stylists.
“The first time we served the bhaingan [aubergine], we had overcooked it and it wasn’t round enough and it disintegrated quickly. So we deep fried it, it looked glossy and great but then we realised that Irrfan will drink half a litre of oil if we gave him that version,” said Nitin Tandon.
He was assisted by Mumbai-based chef Aesha Majithia. The brief given to them was simple: “create honest, candid, true-to-life food”.
“Normally, we are briefed just the opposite: to create food that looks glossy but not necessarily real. So in a certain sense, working on The Lunchbox was a process of unlearning,” said Tandon, who has worked as a food stylist in Bollywood films such as Cheeni Kum and Rajnikanth’s Robot.
Their work involved created several batches of food from different parts of India. After several rounds of sampling by The Lunchbox crew, led by director Ritesh Batra, spread over several weeks, Maharashtrian dishes such as stuffed bitter gourd and basic comfort foods such as dal and paneer kofta made the cut.
“The food was like another character in the film. We knew that the food had to convey certain expressions and emotions. For instance, when Ila begins to fall in love we wanted her to make something rich, thick and indulgent. But at the same time, our choice shouldn’t be food that could have been served in a hotel or a fancy restaurant. That would make it all fake and wrong,” said Tandon. It was also decided that garnishing would be kept to a bare minimum, keeping in mind Ila’s character.
“Remember, no lover would send food garnished in a dabba. The food had to completely blend in with who they were,” said Tandon. Meanwhile, his partner-in-food Majithia found the scenes that featured chapattis, a simple flatbread, a sticky proposition.
“The fact is that the chapatis that you see in the movie were all undercooked. We had to serve it in a way that didn’t make the love notes stick to the bread. So we made different batches of dough with varying consistency to make it work,” said Majithia.
“At one point, Nawazzuddin [Siddiqui] turned to us and asked if we were bent on spoiling his stomach. But everybody was so cooperative and helpful,” said Majithia.
She also lets us in on the secret that the stuffed karela (bitter gourd) was severely undercooked.
“If we cooked it to edible level, then it would immediately discolour or shrivel up. And all that food you see in the movie had no salt because it starts to bleed water. But for the scene in which Irrfan had to taste it, we made a batch that was cooked reasonably well and seasoned with salt.” Another challenge came in the form of creating a kitchen that looked suitably homely.
“We had to deliberately make a mess in the kitchen so that it looks as if Ila was cooking it all. Making a kitchen look dirty is not as easy as making it look clean. We had to look for old pots and pans,” said Majithia.
But all’s well, that ends well. Co-produced by Dubai-based production company Dar Motion Pictures, The Lunchbox has whetted the appetite of many discerning moviegoers. At the recent Dubai International Film Festival, the romance received a standing ovation.
“The best compliment we received was when my friends came out of the theatre wanting to know the recipe behind the curries we styled,” said Majithia.
DID YOU KNOW?
Dubai-based production company Dar Motion Pictures has signed on director Ritesh Batra for their next project.
“We are in the scripting stages and we will make an announcement soon,” said Arun Rangachari of Dar Motion Pictures.