Tag Archives: Ritesh Batra

Movie Review: The Sense of an Ending (2017)

2.5 Stars (out of 4)

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Director Ritesh Batra’s followup to The LunchboxThe Sense of an Ending — opens in Chicago area theaters on March 17, 2017.

The Sense of an Ending demands a lot of patience from its audience. Those who stay on board for the whole film are ultimately rewarded, but there are plenty of reasons to abandon ship.

As in director Ritesh Batra’s debut film, The Lunchbox, The Sense of an Ending centers on a grumpy, older, single man. However, Jim Broadbent’s Tony Webster is much harder to love than Irrfan Khan’s Saajan Fernandes. Liking a character is by no means necessary for enjoying a film, but it helps invest the audience in the story arc when that character (or his or her journey) isn’t otherwise compelling. With Sense, the challenge lies in enduring Tony’s less savory qualities in the absence of a clear endpoint for said arc.

Curmudgeonly Tony lives alone, having divorced his wife Margaret (Harriet Walter) long ago. Their only daughter, Susie (Michelle Dockery), is due to give birth to her first child, but she’s learned not to expect much from her father.

A letter arrives from the estate of the recently deceased Sarah Ford (Emily Mortimer, in flashbacks), mother of Tony’s former college girlfriend, Veronica (Freya Mavor, in flashbacks). Sarah bequeathed to Tony a diary belonging to Adrian Finn (Joe Alwyn), Tony’s college best friend who killed himself shortly after graduating.

Untangling this complicated scenario makes up the bulk of the story, as Tony tries to explain the past to Margaret in the hopes of figuring out why Veronica (played in the present by Charlotte Rampling) won’t hand over Adrian’s diary to Tony. Revisiting his younger days forces Tony to accept that the narrative he’s told himself about his life isn’t totally accurate.

Viewer stamina becomes a requirement during tedious flashbacks to Tony’s university days (during which his character is played by Billy Howle). Tony, Adrian, and their friends over-estimate their own cleverness, as is the wont of many university students. Listening to them smugly drone on about whether one can actually know anything about history is annoying. If Tony was a jerk as a young man, and he’s still a jerk as an old man, will we really care what happens to him?

By the end of the movie, I did. But much of that was due to how much I liked Margaret and Susie, his ex-wife and daughter. If both of them are interested in gaining insight to this previously undisclosed part of Tony’s life, there must be something worth redeeming. I was happy every moment Michelle Dockery was on-screen.

Besides, I’m a sucker for stories that hopefully suggest that we’re never too old to change. If Batra wants to make that his field of study, more power to him.

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In Theaters: March 17, 2017

After a super start at the North American box office, problematic romantic-comedy Badrinath Ki Dulhania carries over for a second week at the following Chicago area theaters: AMC River East 21 in Chicago, MovieMax Cinemas in Niles, Muvico Rosemont 18 in Rosemont, AMC South Barrington 24 in South Barrington, Marcus Addison Cinema in Addison, Regal Cantera Stadium 17 in Warrenville, and AMC Loews Woodridge 18 in Woodridge.

MovieMax also holds over Commando 2 and both the Hindi and Telugu versions of The Ghazi Attack. Other Indian movies showing at MovieMax this weekend include Angamaly Diaries (Malayalam), Chowka (Kannada), Maa Abbayi (Telugu), Aby (Malayalam), Nagaram (Telugu), and Maanagaram (Tamil).

With no new Hindi movies opening locally this weekend, Bollywood fans may want to check out the second film by the director of The Lunchbox, Ritesh Batra. The English-language drama The Sense of an Ending opens in the following Chicago area theaters on Friday, March 17: River East 21, Century Centre Cinema in Chicago, Renaissance Place Cinema in Highland Park, Century 12 Evanston in Evanston, Regal Lincolnshire Stadium 15 in Lincolnshire, and AMC Showplace Village Crossing 18 in Skokie. It has a runtime of 1 hr. 48 min.

Movie Review: The Lunchbox (2013)

TheLunchbox3.5 Stars (out of 4)

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Debutant director Ritesh Batra’s less-is-more style perfectly suits The Lunchbox: a seemingly simple story of an improperly delivered lunchbox that changes the lives of both the sender and the recipient.

Mumbai’s system of dabbawalas is one of the most fascinating systems engineered by humans, ripe for use as a movie plot device. Every day, thousands of dabbawalas (“lunchbox delivery men”, essentially) collect tens of thousands of lunchboxes filled with hot meals from residential and commercial kitchens, delivering them to offices across the city in time for lunch. Their rate of mistakes is estimated to be as low as 1-in-a-million.

Rather than let that one errant lunchbox go to waste, director Batra fashions a story in which a meal prepared by a neglected wife winds up in the hands of a curmudgeonly accountant.

When the wife, Ila (Nimrat Kaur), is returned an uncharacteristically empty lunchbox one afternoon, she thinks she’s found a way to get her distracted husband, Rajiv (Nakul Vaid), to pay attention to her. When Rajiv compliments Ila on her cauliflower — a dish she didn’t prepare that day — Ila realizes that there’s been a mix up, and someone else has started receiving her food.

She includes a note in the meal she sends the next day, thanking the unknown diner for his enthusiastic appetite. The accountant, Mr. Fernandez (Irrfan Khan), sends back another empty lunchbox — and a note commenting that the food was a bit too salty.

Ila’s relationship with Fernandez develops sweetly as they gradually include more personal details in their notes. Ila’s interactions with her mystery diner are aided by her upstairs neighbor, Auntie (Bharati Achrekar): a disembodied voice whose only evidence of physical being is the basket of ingredients she lowers out of the window to Ila.

The lightness of the early relationship between the lead duo turns more serious as reality sets in. Ila is a young, married woman with a daughter, and Fernandez is just weeks away from retirement. The story ends in a more believable way than a traditional love-conquers-all romantic comedy.

(That said, I’d love to see Batra direct a traditional romcom. He’s very good with the elements of that genre present in the first half of The Lunchbox.)

Batra perfectly emphasizes the theme of urban isolation in the story:

  • Rajiv won’t make eye contact with his wife.
  • Ila never sees her neighbor face-to-face.
  • Ila and Fernandez communicate only via written notes.
  • Fernandez watches through the window as his neighbors enjoy a family meal to which he’s not invited.
  • Even Ila’s parents live across town, their physical distance mirroring their emotional distance.

This sense of isolation is heightened by a soundtrack that prioritizes urban clamor over music. The sounds of trains and buses provide most of the background noise. The movie’s infrequent music is provided by the dabbawalas singing on their train ride home or by old film tunes piping down from Auntie’s window.

Still, Batra takes this notion of isolation further than he needs to by implicating marriage as one of those isolating forces. Obviously it can be, since in Ila’s case it keeps her tethered to a man who’s not interested in her. But the movie’s most prominent female characters all seem to consider marriage an institution of diminishing returns for wives, as love quickly fades into resentful caretaking. Perhaps it’s more realistic than in a typical film, but it’s overkill.

The performances in The Lunchbox are wonderful. Ila and Fernandez spend a lot of time reading notes or silently deciding what to do next, yet Kaur and Khan make every moment riveting.

The supporting cast is equally terrific. Auntie is a wonderful creation, and Achrekar does so much to enliven the character without ever appearing on screen.

Though Ila provides the impetus for Fernandez to reconnect with people, his best opportunity comes through Shaikh (Nawazuddin Siddiqui), the eager young man hired to replace him. Shaikh needs a lot of help in order to fill Fernandez’s shoes, and Fernandez takes a long time to warm to the idea of mentoring him. Siddiqui’s great performance again proves that he’s as reliable an actor as there is.

The Lunchbox is something special, and hopefully the first of many great movies to come from a promising new director.

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