Movie review: 'Lunchbox' serves up tasty relationship fare



Irrfan Khan plays Saajan, a man intrigued by the notes from a stranger he finds in his lunch in “The Lunchbox.”


    Rated: PG for thematic material and smoking. Starring: Irrfan Khan, Nimrat Kaur, Nawazuddin Siddiqui. Director: Ritesh Batra. Language: In Hindi with English subtitles. Running time: 104 minutes. Theater: Flicks.

Lovingly detailed, "The Lunchbox" is like that song by Bread about a man who finds a woman's diary underneath a tree "and started reading about me," only to discover she was writing about someone else.

In this case, the diary is a tiffin, a stack of round metal canisters holding meals for Indian office workers. An estimated 200,000 home-cooked and restaurant-prepared meals are delivered daily in Mumbai using an intricate network of bicycles, buses and trains.

The surprisingly efficient system has been in place for more than 100 years.

The film proposes that, one day, a meal carefully prepared by a young woman for her neglectful husband as a way to rekindle their marriage is wrongly delivered to a humorless, much older, widowed office worker, who writes in reply that it was too salty.

She is insulted but intrigued, and responds by sending an overly spicy meal.

And so begins the back and forth between them, as she continues to send meals knowing they are going to the wrong person, and he replies. At first, their notes - narrated by each as the other reads them - are about food, but they quickly reveal her isolation and fears for her marriage, and how his grief over his wife's death turned him into a recluse.

It's an intimate dance between two people who admit the personal things to a stranger that they don't admit themselves, and which becomes an exercise in learning how to change their lives. Will they meet? Should they?

You almost smell and taste the regional specificity - the mouthwatering curry-flavored dishes and their unique delivery system - in this sensitive feature debut by writer-director Ritesh Batra, whose authenticity allows its deeply felt, universal qualities to blossom organically.

They are nudged to the surface by the actors: Irrfan Khan, familiar to Western audiences from "Slumdog Millionaire" and "Life of Pi," as the dour office worker on the verge of retirement; and stage-trained Nimrat Kaur, as the lonely woman whose expressive brown eyes register each desire and disappointment. Bollywood veteran Nawazuddin Siddiqui is the chatterbox office trainee whose obsequious facade cloaks deeper sensibilities that help restore Khan's sense of self.

In a hamburger world, "The Lunchbox" is comfort food.

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