Susan Granger’s review of “The Lunchbox” (Sony Pictures Classics)
Set in contemporary Mumbai, this is a classic romance about strangers who fall in love via letters, although it all comes about through miscommunication.
After working for 35 years as a bureaucratic government claims processor, Saajan (Irrfan Khan) is nearing retirement. He’s a lonely widower with little joy in his life. Then one day, he opens his tin lunchbox, only to discover it’s not his. It was mis-delivered to him by one of the 5,000 white-capped dabbwallas, energetic delivery men whose task is distributing to the workplace hot lunches prepared by wives at home. Instead of his usual drab, store-bought fare, this particular meal was prepared by Ila (Nimrat Kaur), the neglected wife of a workaholic businessman (Nakul Vaid) who pays more attention to his cellphone than to her. Following the advice of her “Auntie,” Mrs. Deshpande (Bharati Achrekar), Ila has concocted a delicious repast that’s filled with spices intended to reignite passion. And it succeeds. Soon Saajan and Ila are exchanging inquisitive, then revealing, even intimate, handwritten messages via the daily lunchbox. Until Ila realizes she needs to meet her confidante Sajaan to decide whether to stay in her loveless marriage.
“You let me into your dreams, and I want to thank you for that,” Saajan says.
Familiar to American audiences from his roles in “Life of Pi,” “Slumdog Millionaire” and “The Namesake” Irrfan Khan is an extraordinarily versatile Bollywood star. He’s perfectly cast by debuting writer/director Ritesh Batra’s, whose charming, compassionate, epistolary concept is reminiscent of “You’ve Got Mail” and “The Shop Around the Corner” – with a special appeal for foodies. Strong on relationship details, including Saajan’s cheerful apprentice/trainee, Aslam Shaikh (Nawazuddin Siddiqui), and atmosphere, courtesy of cinematographer Michael Simmonds, Batra also offers insight into India’s traditional culture (Hindu, Muslim and Christian) when it comes to social relationships between men and women.
In Hindu with English subtitles, on the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “The Lunchbox” is a subtly savory 7, providing nourishment for the soul.