How ‘The Lunchbox’ uses different sounds in the narrative?

Earlier, the use of sound in films was underestimated by a lot of people. For them, visuals were always had an upper hand. But with the sudden surge of interesting stories and out-of-the-box concepts, we started to understand the use of sound and suddenly sound started to get its due credit. Innovations in sound technology have made cinema-viewing an altogether different experience. Though, some films really get benefited with the use of sound, I would like to discuss one film where ‘sound’ plays a different character everytime. The film is ‘The Lunchbox’ by Ritesh Batra.

Though, everything would look ‘normal’ and ‘on the surface’ if we think about it generally, but if we try to go deeper and deeper, things would make some sense. ‘The Lunchbox’ tells the story of a housewife, Ila, who gets connected to an older man, Saajan, through a mistaken delivery via the Dabbawallah’s of Mumbai and get attracted to each other and start to weave a fantasy world through the exchange of notes through lunchbox.

There are different types of sounds that can be heard in the film. Let’s discuss some:

  1. Diagetic sound– Be it the sound of morning symphony including the chugging of train, tring trings of bicycle, squawks of pigeons, honking at traffic snarls, sound of water gushing on Mumbai roads, the sound of typewriters and calculators, sound of radio, sound of doors opening or closing and many more. These are day-to-day sounds that we all hear and they are quite integral in the film.
  • Offscreen sound– When was the last time you heard the voice of a character but you didn’t see him in the film. No, I am not talking about the voice-of-God narration like what Amitabh Bachchan did in Lagaan. In Lagaan, it was a non-diagetic sound i.e. the sound was outside the film’s world and space. But in ‘The Lunchbox’, remember Ila’s talkative neighbor Mrs Deshpande (voiced by Bharti Achrekar). She is the part of film’s diagetic world. We don’t see her throughout the film but that comes like a voice of God or Ila’s sub-conscious at times. She can’t leave her house due to her husband’s condition. But she is the only one who “interacts” with Ila in the house, much more than Ila’s husband.
  • Psychological sound- Do not confuse it with the sub-conscious sound but this one connects the two characters of Ila and Saajan together. Some of them are purely diagetic. For example, in one of the scenes, we see that one day Saajan doesn’t get the lunch. While going in an auto, the driver tells him about a woman and her daughter who jumped from a building and committed suicide. Saajan gets tensed, even though he hasn’t met her, and tries to confirm her name. Suddenly we hear the sound of ambulance, something that makes you worried unintentionally.  There is no dialogue after that but the news of suicide and the sound of ambulance connect together to form an inference in the mind of Saajan, we all connect to.

In another scene, we see the director has connected the shot of husband returning home and wife pampering herself in front of the mirror, through a famous bollywood song ‘Pardesi Pardesi’, which again kind of works at a psychological level as this is the scene where we get to know the ‘real’ husband of Ila (who shares the same local train coach as Saajan). Again, the sound of song tries to foreshadow the connection that will be created between Saajan and Ila.

  • The sound of ‘Silence’– This is the most important sound in ‘The Lunchbox’. The sound we all relate to. The sound that tells it all. This is the sound in the film that both Saajan and Ila relate to in the film. Whether it is the silence that is visible every night when Saajan stands in his balcony for a regular smoking session and observes the small girl and her family or whether it is Ila’s silent dinner sessions with her husband. It speaks a lot about them, their mindset, their psychological state, etc. Without speaking a word, we agree to what they say.

Both the main characters have quite a few dialogues throughout the duration of the film, it is via the use of these sounds that we can relate to both of them and it helps us to identify the Saajan and Ila within all of us.  

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