‘I wanted to explore the many Bombays within Bombay’

After spending 13 years in America, writer-director Ritesh Batra returned to his roots in Mumbai — initially, to make his first feature film, then to set up home in the city again. In the work of the dabbawallahs — who have come to characterise the city — he visualised a love story that takes off when a dabba is delivered to a wrong address. When The Lunchbox premiered at the Cannes Films Festival earlier this year, the movie bagged the critics week viewers' choice award. Since then, the love story between an aging widower (Irrfan) and a lonely housewife (Nimrat Kaur) through letters exchanged in a dabba has been winning hearts and awards across the globe. The movie is a part of multiple film festivals, including the ones hosted in Tulleride, Toronto, Busan and London and is being pitched as Oscar-worthy. Author Salman Rushdie recently tweeted that "it's the best Indian film in a long time". Seated in a café in suburban Bandra, Batra talks about how the film came about and the road ahead. Excerpts:

What set you off on this unusual love story?

This is a story I had worked on nearly six years ago. Initially, I wanted to do a documentary on the dabbawallahs of Mumbai. But I did not want to talk about their process. To do my research, I spent time with them, as much as they would allow me to, and worked as a dabbawallah for a week. Eventually, we became good friends. All of them are in the movie. One of them also has an important part with dialogues.

How did the story of The Lunchbox evolve?

The dabbawallahs told me stories about the housewives they pick up lunch from to deliver to their husbands. That intrigued me and I started writing the story of The Lunchbox. This script is something I kept going back to. Finally, I had a good draft in 2011. Then the whole process of making the movie started. We shot it last year around this time.

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