DUBAI // Crowds of Indian film fans turned out to catch a glimpse of the stars of The Lunchbox grace the red carpet on the sixth day of the Dubai International Film Festival on Wednesday.
Stars Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Nimrat Kaur attended the screening – one of the most anticipated of the nine-day event – at Madinat Jumeirah.
But some fans were left disappointed that leading man Irrfan Khan – known for Life of Pi and Slumdog Millionaire – did not attend.
Siddiqui, Kaur and Batra signed autographs and posed for pictures, making every effort to keep their excited fans happy.
“This script was completely mesmerising to me,” said Kaur, who plays Khan’s love interest in the romantic comedy.
“It’s extraordinary and has all the elements of a fairy tale – such a beautiful story told in a very clever way. I am very proud to have been a part of it and can’t wait to see what the audience in Dubai say about it. I really hope they like it. I think they will.”
The Lunchbox is set in Mumbai and focuses on the Dabbawallahs, a community of 5,000 lunchbox deliverymen.
A wrongly delivered box – something Harvard University has predicted happens just once for every four million delivered – connects housewife Ila Vaid, played by Kaur, to Khan’s Saajan Fernandes, a lonely man on the road to retirement.
“It’s the story of nostalgia and of hope for the future and, above all, of the small joys of life that need our attention,” said writer, producer and director Batra about his first feature film. “We have been so lucky to have such great reviews and it’s just fantastic to be in Dubai with it as well.”
The Lunchbox is competing for the festival’s prestigious Muhr Asia Africa Awards in the Feature Film category.
It has already been praised at festivals worldwide, including at the Cannes International Film Festival, where it won the Critics Week Viewers Choice Award, also known as Grand Rail d’Or.
Batra’s film was also a strong contender for India’s official entry for the 86th Academy Awards, in the Best Foreign Film Category, but lost out to The Good Road, a decision that sparked controversy in India.
Set in Mumbai, The Lunchbox has smashed Indian box-office records and won an international fanbase.
“It’s a film normal people can relate to,” Batra said. “It’s a journey for everyone in the film and that’s something we are all experiencing 24 hours of the day.
“Nobody knows where each person’s journey will take them. That’s what so exciting.”
In 2009, Batra was selected for the Sundance Writers and Directors labs for a feature project, The Story of Ram. He was also named the Sundance Time Warner Storytelling Fellow and an Annenburg Fellow and was part of the Graduate Film Programme at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts.
Vimal Saproo, 28, an IT specialist working in Dubai, had tickets for the film and could not wait to see it.
“Everyone has been talking about this movie so I just know it will be good,” he said. “I don’t usually watch romantic movies but I thought I’d make an exception for this. My wife is happy.”
The first gala screening at Madinat Jumeirah yesterday was Saving Mr Banks, the story of Walt Disney’s struggle to make Mary Poppins, starring Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson. None of its stars were able to attend.
A second screening of The Lunchbox will take place on Friday at 9pm at Mall of the Emirates.
For tickets and more information about the festival, which runs until Saturday, visit www.dubaifilmfest.com.