The Lunchbox

In English and Hindi with English subtitles

In a country as crowded as India, the chances of finding your perfect match are a billion to one. That’s a reason why so many marriages are arranged for economic and social benefits rather than romance. But for urban workers in Mumbai, a mode of miraculous matchmaking is as close as their lunchbox.

Since 1890, a shadow army of delivery men called dabbawallas have ferried food from kitchens to offices, rarely making a mistake. Although some of the meals are from take-out restaurants, most of the food is from stay-at-home wives, who sometimes include love notes in the cylindrical stacks of flatbread, cabbage and curry.

Young mother Ila (Nimrat Kaur) is determined to cook memorable lunches for her workaholic husband, Rajeev (Nakul Vaid), based on recipes and rare ingredients from an unseen aunt in an upstairs apartment. But although the lunch tins are licked clean, cold-hearted Rajeev doesn’t say a word about the food, and Ila realizes it was delivered to the wrong person.

The lucky recipient is Saajan (Irrfan Khan, the storyteller from “The Life of Pi”), a widowed accountant on the downside of middle age. The next time he receives her food, he reciprocates with a thank-you note, and soon the two lonely correspondents are communicating their deepest thoughts and daydreaming about second chances.

There’s a haze of nostalgia over this story, as both the young Ila and the aging Saajan are fans of bygone Bollywood movies and music. Yet the years have hardened Saajan, who is dismissive toward his bumbling new assistant, Shaikh (Nawazuddin Siddiqui). But when Saajan shares some of Ila’s food with Shaikh, the orphaned young man disarms the old grouch with tales of woe.

“The Lunchbox” unfolds like a classic fable, even as it’s based in a big city of teeming trains and cramped cubicles. The debut creation of director Ritesh Batra, it’s a lovely little film from a place where the little things linger.

– JOE WILLIAMS, THE ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH

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