Strangers Exchanging Letters (and Food) in the Award-winning Film The Lunchbox

Letters from a Stranger: Interview with The Lunchbox director Ritesh Batra

A misdelivered lunchbox paves the way for an intimate letter exchange between strangers: a neglected housewife, played by Nimrat Kaur, and a widowed office worker facing retirement, played by Irrfan Khan.

by Ada Tseng

In 2007, director Ritesh Batra set out to make a documentary about dabbawallahs, workers who transport food to and from workplaces as part of an intricately-run lunchbox delivery system in Mumbai.  After immersing himself in their world for a couple weeks, Batra became fascinated by how much these dabbawallahs knew about their clients just from picking up and dropping the lunchboxes for years, sometimes decades. Instead of filming a documentary, he found himself inspired to write his own fictional story.

“It started as movie about a woman who’s trying to fix her marriage through her cooking,” says Batra. “And then one day I thought, ‘What if she [accidentally] ended up cooking for someone else?'”

In Batra’s debut feature film The Lunchbox — which premiered to acclaim in the 2013 Cannes Film Festival and has since won three Asian Film Awards (Best Screenplay, Actor, and Film) and three Filmfare Awards (Critics Awards for Best Film, Debut Director and Best Supporting Actor) — Nimrat Kaur plays a young, middle-class housewife named Ila who feels her marriage slipping away. She decides to put some extra effort into making her husband’s lunch and is overjoyed when the metal lunchbox is returned completely eaten. Assuming her husband loved her meal, she’s surprised when he barely even mentions it when he gets home from work. Turns out, it got misdelivered to an older insurance claims adjuster Saajan (Irrfan Khan) who is about to retire. She sends the stranger a letter, thanking him for finishing her food, and they begin an epistolary correspondence (through the lunchbox) that begins very casually but eventually provides them both with a much-needed outlet to discuss their deepest hopes, fears, and disappointments.

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Any Excuse to Go See Ang Lee

Creative Encounters: A Conversation with Ang Lee

On February 20 in Beverly Hills, Louis XIII de Remy Martin unveiled their new cognac brand over a celebration of Ang Lee, co-hosted by the Film Foundation, and a conversation with the director about his two decades of filmmaking, from 1992’s Pushing Hands to 2012’s Life of Pi.

by Ada Tseng

It’s been ten years since Ang Lee directed Anne Hathaway in Brokeback Mountain, and he is still in awe over her performance in a clip that’s shown at the “Creative Encounters” event in Beverly Hills on February 20 showcasing his creative journey. It’s the scene toward the end of the film, where Ennis (Heath Ledger) calls Lureen (Anne Hathaway), to find out what happened to her husband Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal) — also Ennis’ secret lover. Framed in a stark close-up, Lureen begrudgingly rehashes the version of the story she’s been telling everyone and, through their tense conversation, eventually realizes the mysterious “Brokeback Mountain” Jack used to talk about is actually a special place that Jack and Ennis shared.

“I don’t know where that came from,” Lee still marvels. Hathaway was 21 at the time, playing a conflicted middle-aged widow.

The admiration is mutual. Special guest Hathaway, who joined Lee onstage toward the end of the hour-long discussion about his two decades of filmmaking, told the audience that the Brokeback Mountain script is still one of the best she’s read till this day, and she credits that particular scene for establishing her now Oscar-winning career. Ten years ago, she was still most known for her work in Princess Diaries, and it wasn’t until Lee showed Meryl Streep the scene in Brokeback Mountain that Streep approved Hathaway’s casting for The Devil Wears Prada.

Hosted by Louis XIII de Remy Martin and the Film Foundation (the non-profit film preservation organization founded by filmmaker Martin Scorsese), moderator Schawn Belston engaged director Ang Lee in a conversation about his journey from an unknown Taiwanese NYU film student to celebrated filmmaker around the world.

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Happy Valentine’s Day with LA Weekly’s Couples Issue: Randall Park and Jae Suh

Jae Suh and Randall Park, photographed at the Ricardo Montalban Theater - PHOTO BY STAR FOREMAN

Randall and Jae Suh Park: Baby Makes Three

by Ada Tseng for LA Weekly’s 2014 Couples Issue

Spending an afternoon with Korean-American actors Randall Park and Jae Suh Park in their San Fernando Valley home means falling in love with the new ruler of their household: 21-month-old Ruby. Dressed in a pastel pink-and-white striped jumpsuit, she quietly leads the pair from the family room (where she flips through her picture books), to her playroom (where she rocks the keyboard while using her drum as a stool), and finally to the master bedroom, where, snuggled in between two pillows twice the size of her body, she entertains herself by clicking through YouTube videos on Jae’s tablet. (“She once flagged a kid’s video for adult content,” Jae says.)

Ruby recently starred as a crime-fighting baby alongside her parents in the comedy web series Baby Mentalist, written by her dad as the Parks were first emerging from the daze of new parenthood. Produced for Channel 101, a monthly shorts festival at the Downtown Independent where a live audience votes for popular pilots to continue, Baby Mentalist was voted forward for six months straight, capturing Ruby’s progression from smiley baby to walking toddler.

Randall and Jae are both professional working actors  –  a Culver City native, he’s known as Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ political nemesis on Veep, while his Korean-born, Lodi-raised wife has won guest spots on everything from NCIS: Los Angeles to How I Met Your Mother. They also create their own material, both as regulars at Channel 101 and as members of various Asian-American theater groups.

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Korean indie band 10CM comes to LA

Hello 10CM!: Korean band 10CM performs in Los Angeles

The acoustic indie band made up of vocalist Kwon Jung-yeol and guitarist Yoon Cheol-jong held an intimate concert in Los Angeles’ Club Nokia theater on Friday, January 31.

by Ada Tseng

Billed as the first concert by an indie Korean band in Los Angeles, Club Nokia’s “BURUDA Concert Ver.1: Hello 10cm” event on January 31, 2014 attracted a devoted audience of young, beaming Koreans (mostly women and couples) who swayed to every beat and laughed at every story that the charistmatic vocalist Kwon Jung-yeol told in Korean between his songs.

10CM, which consists of Kwon and guitarist Yoon Cheol-jong, debuted in 2010, and their first album 1.0 sold more than 200,000 copies — impressive for indie music fans who mostly download music online. They went on to win “This Year’s Discovery Award” at the 2010 Mnet Asian Music Awards and “Best Pop Song Award” at the 2011 Korean Music Awards. 2.0 was released in 2012, and their single “Fine Thank You and You?” was nominated for Best Band Performance and Song of the Year at the 2012 Mnet Asian Music Awards.

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