World Food Day: 'Bawarchi', 'The Lunchbox'; when cinema cooked up a delicious storm

Food is a memory, a story, an intimate connection with the past, a celebration of human relationships and sometimes even a cinematic protagonist.

On World Food Day (October 16), let us revisit some of our favourite films revolving around cooking, eating and bonding over food.

The Lunchbox

"Sometimes the wrong train takes you to the right station, " says Irrfan Khan's Sajan Fernandes in 'The Lunchbox' to sum up a bond that develops over a misplaced lunchbox between two lonely people.

This 2013 film directed by Ritesh Batra is a modern classic as it luxuriates in the healing power of cooking, eating, and sharing stories. The film was even nominated for the Best Film Not in the English Language category of the British Academy Film Awards 2015.   

(Photograph:WION Web Team)


This 1972 Hrishikesh Mukherjee film 'Bawarchi' is a classic take on the powerful influence food has on the way families function. A chaotic kitchen translates into interpersonal strife, the film seems to convey and also shows how harmonious cooking brings everyone together. This life lesson is taught to a bickering joint family by a mysterious  and charismatic Bawarchi (played by Rajesh Khanna) who arrives suddenly in the household with glowing testimonials from celebrities who he claims to have worked for.

He starts by cleaning the courtyard, chops vegetables like one possessed, cooks  vegetarian kebabs, regulates everyone's food habits conduct music and dance sessions over the morning tea and weans off a prospective alcoholic from heavy drinking by introducing him to a chilled, lime spiked cola! 



'Axone', a 2020 film directed by Nicholas Khargonkar and produced by Yoodlee Films (currently streaming on Netflix), treats a north-Eastern dish and its unusually pungent aroma as a powerful statement on ethnicity, deep-rooted prejudice, and discrimination against "the other." This "other" could be anyone who does not fit in because of what she/he cooks or eats or looks like.

The movie begins with North-Eastern migrant Upasana (Sayani Gupta) trying to cook this rather controversial dish Axone in her Delhi home with her friends, as a special treat for her best friend’s wedding. This, however, triggers unspoken biases to come to a boiling point and something as simple as wanting to cook a special meal becomes fraught with tension and conflict.



Raja Krishna Menon directoiral 'Chef', was a remake of a Jon Favreau hit of the same name. Starring Saif Ali Khan in the eponymous role, the film reimagines the story of a burnt out chef in the Indian context. We see chef Roshan (Saif) leaving New York to visit Kochi to repair his relationship with his ex-wife( Padmapriya Janakiraman) and bond with his son (Svar Kamble).

He has lost his passion for cooking and his son does not really respond to his overtures. It is at this point Roshan rediscovers that heartfelt cooking is the biggest gift one can offer to a loved one.  And soon enough, he wins over his son with an irresistible  "rotzza" (roti and pizza). Soon father and son are traveling together to Amritsar where Roshan first discovered his passion for food and life comes full circle with the duo cooking together on a food truck. Directed by Chef demonstrates that food speaks the language of love when words are inadequate.


Stanley Ka Dabba

Amole Gupte's 2011 offering 'Stanley Ka Dabba' is not so much about food as it is about what food represents to a young child. It is about the longing for love, for normalcy, for a meal packed in a tiffin box by someone who cares. The story revolves around a young boy Stanley (Partho Gupte) who comes to school with a ready smile but has a heartbreaking backstory that nobody can guess. And always, there is the recess when everyone opens their tiffin boxes and Stanley never has anything to eat. And looming in the backdrop is an angry, greedy, rampaging teacher (Amole himself) itching to steal everyone's food.

Stanely somehow gets by because of the generosity of his friends and the love of his favourite teacher (Divya Dutta) but the film poignantly points out how all children deserve a lovingly cooked meal,  warmth, and nourishment. The film reveals who Stanley  is right at the end to shake  the audience up  and to remind them that there are millions of Stanleys who go without food and care everyday and need our help.


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