The Tiffin


Nothing spells ‘alive’ like a hot, home cooked curry.

Imagine sitting at your cubicle at work, your tummy just about to grumble for its midday meal, and in rolls lunch.

A tiffin of two or three different curries, a chapatti and some rice.

You open up the insulated carry bag just to get a whiff, and OMG…

Hungry yet?

This hunger is really the premise behind “The Lunchbox”, a movie Ms and I saw on a desperate, mid-winter whim the other night.

Set in the heady bustle of Mumbai, it’s a story about Saajan, a lonely widowed accountant on the brink of retirement, and the misplaced tiffin of Ila, a neglected young wife.

The food is cooked with love, and delivered to the wrong man with the right appreciation for the cook’s craft.

A conversation begins through a series of illicit hand written notes, passed back and forth in the tiffin, courtesy of the dabbawallahs’ flawless delivery system (as declared by Harvard University).

From the moment Saajan encounters the first note, we are transported to our childhood – to the days before iPhones and email, when kids wrote notes and traded sandwiches.


Everything about this movie is real. The noise, dirt, sweat. The claustrophobia. The smell of yellowed office files, hot curry and cigarette smoke. The graininess of analogue video and romance of handwritten notes.

Looking at the overcrowded transport, there’s the sense of a city under strain. Development misplaced. Out of context. Fucked up in a million different ways.

And that is part of the reason the film has a universal resonance.

When Ila shares her dream of escaping to Bhutan, where the value of one rupee becomes five and the only GDP is “Gross Domestic Happiness”, we understand.

We’ve all been there. Longing for a simplicity lost to the world as we know it.

A world constantly filtered through a digital interface that screams for our attention, day and night.

While most of us manage some kind of escape – a tree change, a sea change or a holiday to Bali, for Ila and Saajan, there is no escape.

Except through food.

The poetry infused in Ila’s cooking comes alive in Saajan’s writing, as the very act of taste reignites his joie de vivre.

There’s a moment in the film where we hear the voiceover of Saajan as he writes to Ila. We see him standing on his balcony, drawing on a cigarette and Ila, pouring herself a cup of masala tea, as she sits to ponder on his note.


Right in that moment, there is nothing else in the world except two people connected by a single piece of paper, and the freedom to reflect.

It made me want to throw out my computer and write, the way I used to.

Uncensored and unencumbered. With a piece of paper and a pen. No thoughts. Just a feeling bleeding on the page.

A real page.

I’m heartened by that thought, as I am by the number of requests I’ve had these past two weeks for hard copies of the Hello Pepi books.

It’s a 3D world that tugs at us, reminding us that we are more than just a hologram.

We crave touch. And taste. And smell.

The kind we don’t even know we’re missing until we feel it, once again. We are alive!

There’s an oft repeated line in the film that goes:

Sometimes the wrong train will get you to the right station.”

Maybe books aren’t dead. Maybe it’s time to go and find a publisher.

And so the journey carries on… 🙂

When was the last time you tasted something so divine, the world stopped spinning?

Speaking of joie de vivre

PFTTakeMeHomePepi’s First Things, FREE until Monday.

This Toy Dog is for Real – Take him home!

Don’t believe me? Check out Mamta Chakravorty’s review – Pepi’s first fan from Bangalore!


  1. says

    I had no idea what a tiffin was Alarna! And, this looks like a movie I would love: food and handwritten notes what else to ask!
    I want to believe that paper is not dead. I’m crazy for stationary, I still write letters and cards and I like hard cover books.
    Big yeah! For finding a publisher!

  2. says

    I love the description of the tiffin (for Indian men prepared by their wives). hmmmm 😉

    I’m certainly going to watch this movie now that you’ve told me it inspired you to write!

  3. says

    Inspirational post, Alarna. When I visited China a few years ago, I stopped by a countryside where my niece’s high school friends resided. I sat in on one class and saw five or six more little groups passing along notes while the teacher wrote equates on the board. That sense of community without technology still resonated with me to this day.

    “The Lunchbox” sounds like it has a bit of that, and a touch of serendipity. It’s been added to my To Watch list (which is growing alarmingly quickly). I think your point about craving touch is especially interesting. There was a talk by the former CEO of Burberry (Angela Ahrendts) where she highlighted the importance of being able to connect emotionally with people behind a screen. For her, it was through fashion/lifestyle, and for “The Lunchbox”, it was through food. I love it!

    • says

      Gorgeous image of the kids passing notes in class. I’m glad to see this tradition hasn’t died! I still have some of those notes that were passed in class from my school days. Such memories! 🙂

      This movie has the kind of ‘feel good’ serendipity that you want to see, because it is also real. It’s so easy for us to forget how important our senses are these days, so when technology connects us with that again – that’s magic. I’ll have to look up her talk!

    • says

      At first, I thought the whole delivery system was made for fiction. Unbelievable – I can’t imagine a tiffin ever reaching the right destination here in Melbourne! The importance of good food… 🙂

  4. says

    This is absolutely a movie for me. I can’t wait to see it!

    My husband and I recently saw Chef—also a food-inspired movie about relationships, but in this case the focal point was the relationship between a father and son. I’m buying that one as soon as it’s available. It was SO good.

    • says

      I was thinking of you as I wrote this – had a feeling it might be your thing! There seem to be a few of these types of movies out there at the moment – The Hundred Foot Journey being one that I’m not sure will measure up to this gorgeous, bittersweet style of feel good. I’ll have to check out Chef.

  5. says

    Ron and I drove 40 miles to see this movie (the only place it was showing). We were in Mumbai but didn’t get to see the train system or dabbawallahs. The movie was everything you described and is worth seeing again. A sensory experience. I imagine when my grandson has his first girlfriend, their notes will probably be texted, only to be lost and forgotten. Your Pepi series is creative and needs a publisher. I agree. You’ve come so far, Alarna. No stopping,now. While at a family gathering, recently, we gave the 6 grand kids gift cards to a book store to select and read a book. I also wrote hand written notes of encouragement to each. Books open the door to the world. Lovely post, Alarna.

    • says

      Wow, that’s commitment, going that far to see a movie. Definitely worth it, though! I guess you would need to immerse in a place for a while to see and experience this kind of daily routine. But you’re so right about the lost and forgotten moments of romance. I’ve tried to keep track of old texts and emails like that, but it is not the same. “Books open the door to the world”. Beautiful. Thank you for THAT encouragement 🙂

  6. says

    I always enjoy food inspired movies–they bring out hunger (all different kinds). And as much as my nephew enjoyed me reading him your Pepi books via my Kindle, Pepi would be outstanding in 3D. All the best, Alarna!

  7. says

    Alarna, you are such a gifted reviewer! I love this movie and its message SO MUCH already, and it’s because of your heartfelt words. The notion of the handwritten note is romantic and earthy; raw and intimate in a way the computer can never be. And making food for others with love is such a beautiful thing. It’s true communication.

    I hope you do seek a publisher! That would be AMAZING.

    • says

      India definitely has it right about this: food = love. I know quite a few mothers who would groan at the sound of that, but this movie strips it all back to the heart of the food sharing ritual. Those rare moments when you really get to enjoy the whole process of creation and sharing. Communication. Yes! Thanks for the love, blog sister 🙂

  8. says

    Food = love…amen! I totally want to see this movie!!! The Indian culture fascinates me endlessly and I can’t wait to travel there one day. Thanks for the recommend, hon!

    • says

      My pleasure! I hope you get to make the journey one day. In fact, just this weekend a trip to India has been firmly placed on my calendar for next year – so yay to that! 🙂

  9. lynnkelleyauthor says

    Hello Alarna! I’ve been a slacker with blogging. Sorry I haven’t visited you in quite a while. Congrats on publishing another Hello Pepi book! I bet there are tons of folks who would rather have hard copies of your books!

    What a wonderful movie review. Now I want to see this movie. Sounds really good! I was going to say I hope you’re enjoying your summer, but it’s winter in your neck of the woods, isn’t it? No matter what season, they always go by way too fast! Take care! 🙂

    • says

      Lynn, I think ‘slacker’ is not a word that applies to you, and from what I’ve been seeing, you’ve got more than enough to deal with right now. Thanks so much for taking the time to come by here!

      It sure is winter, and we are feeling it (though today we had some beautiful, unseasonally warm sunshine, so I can’t complain). Whether or not the movie is still playing in the US, it is still totally worth a peek. I hope you get to treat yourself xox

  10. says

    Sounds intriguing Alarna and colourful. I have many favourite movies that evoke these senses and I wonder why most of them are foreign films? I went out the other night with my daughter and mum to enjoy a good meal. There is nothing worse than an overpriced plate of dry chicken and a mousse that drips of your spoon. Taste is so important that when it is disappointing I get very frustrated. Maybe we have been watching too many episodes of master chef says my daughter where the desserts look too amazing. I use live on King st in Newtown Sydney, when I was a young single thing and those days of beautiful tasting food have spoiled me I think.

    • says

      You make an interesting point about foreign films, and I think I’d say the same. I guess many of these cultures have been around a long time, and they seem to have developed a refined sensory palette, perhaps. Especially when it comes to food. Unlike our culture, which is still so young and brash… I agree there is nothing worse than paying for a pricey meal that is all looks and no substance. In fact, I think Masterchef is responsible for all the restaurants aspiring to ‘fancy’ menus and price tags. But it actually takes real skill. Give me an honest, homey, unpretentious meal any day.

  11. karenmcfarland says

    “When was the last time you tasted something so divine, the world stopped spinning?”
    Ooh, excellent thought girl. You’re a deep thinker. What a thought provoking question. Though one could wonder if by taste, you mean literal or is that theoretical? We could taste something by experience or in our mind. Either could be so divine. We could be caught in the moment, thus our world stops spinning. Wow, I really love that. 🙂

    • says

      Well that’s the thing – it could be literal or figurative! But I am definitely remembering those mouth watering moments when the first taste of some delicious meal puts everything on pause. What else are the senses for, except to transport us to a different realm? 🙂 I’m glad it got you thinking!

  12. says

    I’m glad that you loved watching it, Alarna Aunt! I haven’t watched it yet; looking forward to watch it soon. By the way, how’re ya doing there? What’s new to listen from your side? 🙂

    – Rahul

      • says

        Nope! I don’t think that the movie was a huge hit in India. However, I don’t prefer Bollywood movies much. 😛 Do try Mollywood movies, If possible. If you’re interested, I shall give you some good suggestions then. 🙂

        Wow! New job? May I know what it’s?

        Studies? They’re not that bad, Aunt. Still, I’ve to await for 2 more years to do something for my own life. 🙂

        – Rahul

      • says

        Mollywood? I have not heard of this, but I am always open to new things 🙂 I will be taking bookings for events. Fun and ways less complicated than engineering 😉

      • says

        Yes, of course! Wish you all success, Alarna. Dream big and achieve your heights. Have a good day, Super Lady. 😀 🙂

        – Rahul

    • says

      Oh, please doodle away! I would love to see and share that… It’s been a big theme for me of late 🙂

      (I hope the movies live up to my hype. Must admit, I’m a bit of a fanatic 😉 )

  13. says

    I am glad to see an Indian movie trailer on your Blog,
    Hello from India, Alarna !!

    Movie was just Awesome !!

    If possible, Go for ‘Ship of thesus’ as well,
    You will not be disappoint.
    That was a movie Made in India, but for the global Audience.

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