21mu Tiffin review:  This one warms the belly and soothes the soul

Director Vijaygiri Bava uses writer Raam Mori’s ingredients [short story] to cook a fine dish filled various flavors [relationships]

Rating: 3.5 / 5

By Mayur Lookhar

The OTT [Over-The-Top] boom and the various film festivals provide a platform for a wide range of cinema.  Despite its history, rich theatre tradition, Gujarati cinema still has few miles to go before achieving pan India status. The success of National Award-winning film Hellaro [2019] though has helped in creating a certain curiosity around Gujarati cinema.

Yet another film holds promise as director Vijaygiri Bava’s 21mu Tiffin [2021] is set to release in theatres on 10 December, 2021.  The Gujarati film was a top pick in the Indian Panorama Section at the recently concluded 52 International Film Festival of India, held in Goa.  It was screened at the 16 Tasveer South Asian Film Festival and the prestigious Toronto International Women Film Festival this year.

An aromatic title indeed, and the culinary delights in the opening credits, left the epicurean in me hungry.  It’s in these moments that we Indians truly realise the value of an interval. We had our popcorn [no choice] but does this film succeed in satiating our appetite for good cinema?

21mu Tiffin is a story derived from young Gujarati writer Raam Mori’s Delhi Sahitya Akademi award winning book Mahotu [2016] – a collection of short stories.

Set in Ahmedabad, 21mu Tiffin [2021] tells the story of a mid-aged housewife [Niilam Paanchal] who keeps herself engaged by providing tiffin services.  Her principal customers are migrant bachelors some of whom live in shared accommodation.  Dhruv [Raunaq Kamdar], a young man from Bhavnagar arrives for a six-month internship in a company. His mother has cautioned him to avoid outside [restaurant. street] food. One day, he devours the food from one his roomies and then our man is hell bent on availing the housewife’s tiffin service.  When his requests to the delivery man is turned down, he reaches the house of the lady trying to pursue her to offer one more tiffin.   The lady is impressed by his charm and readily agrees to provide the 21mu Tiffin [21 Tiffin].

The housewife grows fond of Dhruv and this naturally isn’t welcomed by her 20-year-old daughter Neetal [Netrie Trivedi].  Prior to Dhruv coming into her life, the housewife led a monotonous life.  Whilst cooking is her passion, but her face often bears a charred look.  Despite a family, our lady is lonely.  We’ve seen a lonely housewife in films like Astitva [2000] and Lunchbox [2013] .  Just like the latter, 21mu Tiffin has an appetizing narrative too, but the Gujarati film tastes different like its cuisine.

In essence 21mu Tiffin is a human-interest story, a tale of relationships.  The mother daughter-relationship is explored through two variants – one that the housewife shares with her daughter, while the other through the past lens involving her own aged Alzheimer stricken mother [played by Raksha Nayak].  Much of the film revolves around the bittersweet relationship between the housewife and her 20-year-old daughter.  There are no broken ties, but a gulf that has crept into in their relationship largely due to a lack of open and civil communication.  Whilst this relationship is still relatively young, but the poor housewife finds herself turning into a mother for her ailing mother.  Both these relationships highlight the generation gap and the apathy to strike harmony.

It is only the young customer Dhruv who brings a certain joy in the housewife’s life.  This new relationship is unspoken, undefined and left to one’ imagination. The Dhruv-housewife friendship can best be described as one where you bump into a stranger during a tour where you spend few minutes or maybe hours without even asking each other’s name.  And that holds true for 21mu Tiffin in the parting shot where Dhruv apologizes for not even knowing the lady’s name.  It’s no ignorance on our part, but the housewife;s name is not revealed in the entire film.  She is a housewife to her husband, a mother to her daughter, a daughter-cum mother to her aged mother, a sister to her brother.  In the effort to maintain the many relationships, our housewife loses her own identity.  And that is the essence of the film.

More than any food, 21mu Tiffin [2021] provides some food for thought on the monotony, mundaneness in human relationships.  The message is passed on nicely through Mori and Bava’s matured screenplay.  The competent acts by Paanchal and Netrie compliment its screenplay.  Paanchal and Netrie look like a mother-daughter duo, but more importantly it’s their neat chemistry that draws you to their respective characters.  This relationship is like our housewife’s sweet and sour pickle.  Their disagreements reflect the generation gap, but more importantly the lack of an open communication.  As a viewer, you fear there could be a major rift but as the film progresses, Neetal realizes that perhaps her father [Deepan Shah] and her haven’t been there for their mother in her moments of distress. The change in the arc of her character is reflective of the coming of age of the 20-year-old.   Netrie succeeds in emoting the various mood to her character effortlessly.  She is simply flawless throughout the film.

Paanchal is a well-known name in the television circuit. She impresses us with her talent. She carries off the despondent look nicely, but the only glitch here is the over-excitement on her face from the moment Dhruv enters her life.  The Dhruv-housewife scenes are a bit too sugarcoated partly bordering on the melodrama.  Raunaq Kamdar has a fine presence but like the housewife, he, too gets a bit carried away.  The rushed writing and overzealous conduct could have been curtailed.

Bava has a firm grip on his film for the best part, but the few rushed scenes at the business end get a minus from us. Much like the housewife, the film leaves you with a sense of incompleteness.  We don’t know the constraints, but maybe the Dhruv-housewife friendship could have been explored more.  Given the potential of the story, 21mu Tiffin surely could have done with few more minutes to its 88-minute screenplay. What’s commendable though is that neither Mori nor Bava compromise on cultural values and boundaries, albeit unfair.   The neat screenplay is backed by impactful, thought-provoking dialogues.

Largely efficient in the creative aspect, but cinematography is the not strongest aspect of the film.   What we appreciate though is the limited background score and the quality subtitling. The latter is rare to find in our regional films.

A compelling story, neat screenplay and amiable acts make it hard for one to not consume this 21mu Tiffin. Go savor this delicacy made of intricate human relationships.  This one warms the belly and soothes the soul.

Watch the trailer of 21mu Tiffin [2021] below.

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