The movie by Ritesh Batra, is quiet a simple one. A housewife longing for some attention, an old man ready to retire and embrace old age, and a young, energetic man craving to be wanted. 2 principal characters, 1 supporting one and 1 bustling city, that's it. And the story is simple too. A friendship that builds over a series of letters between the protagonists and delivered through a dabba. Essentially, you see these things in loop, Nimrit making a dabba, dabbawaalas delivering it, Irrfan having it while reading the letter, Nawaz trying to impress Irrfan, dabba being returned and then Nimrit reading the letter. But it's not really about this loop, it's about what is being said.
Subtlety is the strength of the film. And Ritesh blends the subtlety into the making. The letters are crisp, the actors don't speak too much but they say a lot. Irrfan speaks more through his fidgety reactions, his stares, his body language. It's a treat to watch him turn from a grouchy old, lonely man to a man with some hope. Though the character is very cliched, the way he plays it is refreshing. It's not really love, but the anticipation of something new and exciting happening to his dull, morose life; that makes him a happier person. Nimrit too goes about her house chores, and becomes progressively happier as her friendship with the unknown old man increases. Only, Nawaz is the anomaly. He speaks a lot and wears brighter clothes. He is loud and pleasantly so. He adds colour to Irrfan's otherwise monochrome life.
But to say that it's faultless cinema, is faulty. 5 out of 5 stars, seems more like some Oscar campaigning than the true merit of the film. Yes, it's good but not exceptional. Ritesh has made an honest little, feel-good film and that's about it. His characters are too one-dimensional, their actions too vague. Why would you say a young woman find her only solace in faceless old people - a neighbor and a dabba friend? Why would her husband be so aloof, that he doesn't seem to care about both the wife and the kid. He is totally black and no one is that black. This wife is not ready to fight. There is no fight. She is plain desperate. It's as if her life is so hopeless that there is no other escape for her other than suicide. And for a subtle film, to show someone waiting in a cafe and craning her neck so loudly, is just weird.
There's confusion in the era of the film too. When is this supposed to be? 1990s? 2000s ? Then why doesn't the middle class housewife have a computer or even a cell phone on her? Why does she want to meet an unknown man, even without speaking to him first. There are logical flaws, that cannot be overlooked. Who doesn't have a cell phone in the Reliance era! Forget that, it's as if no other ways to communicate even exist in the protagonists lives. Actually, the director makes things so subtle, that you miss it. It's as if he wants us to make our own stories. Why is this woman so helpless and hopeless? Even the complex Mumbai shown by the director is too one-dimensional.
Anyway. I went into the theater expecting a scrumptious 4 box non-veg meal, but it turned out to be simple, diet vegetarian food that cleanses the stomach. It was tasty, but was not mouth watering. It gave me pleasure, but it didn't leave me craving for more. Infact by the end of it, I had had enough. It was as if I had gone into a Mughlai hotel and had been served vegetarian. Go for it, for its performances and for it's no frills making. Atleast, you won't have indigestion.
Should the film have gone to the Oscar.
Most definitely. Simply because everyone is talking about it. It is famous in the international circuit and Irrfan is extremely popular. He would have drawn in the judges. The Good Road, may be a better film, but definitely not the better choice. It's awards after all and it is all about who has the better leverage.