Unless you know a lot about India, you might wonder, as did I, where this story is headed, but that won’t deter you from enjoying this delightful film from India. Once you understand where “The Lunchbox” is going, you’ll enjoy it even more. Directed and written by Ritesh Batra, “The Lunchbox’s” plot revolves around Mumbai’s Dabbawala, a food delivery system known for its efficiency and accuracy. The service collects hot food in lunchboxes from residences and delivers them to workers who sign up for this service. Set in Mumbai, “The Lunchbox” is the story of two lonely people—a young housewife and an accountant about to take early retirement—at a crossroad in their lives, facing major decisions about what path to take. The two connect because of the Dabbawala. Have I whetted your appetite?
We first meet Ila (Nimrat Kaur) as she prepares a lunch which is to be picked up and delivered to her husband by the Dabbawala. A distance has grown between the two of them and Ila hopes to spice things up, literally, by preparing some new lunches for him. Unfortunately the Dabbawala makes a rare mistake and delivers the meal instead to Sajaan (Irrfan Khan), a middle-aged widower who works as an accountant. His reaction to this meal, so different from what he normally receives, is priceless. Eventually Ila realizes that a mistake has been made in the delivery and includes a note of explanation in the lunch container. Sajaan writes back and the two initiate a pen-pal type relationship, revealing more and more to one another about other facets of their lives.
In addition to Ila, Sajaan is very reluctantly drawn into a friendship with the young office-worker, Shaikh (Nawazuddin Siddiqui), who is to be his replacement. Shaikh is so eager to please, it’s almost painful to watch, but he finally wins Sajaan over. Through Ila and Shaikh, Sajeen’s solitary life begins to open up and the change in him is wonderful to behold.
“The Lunchbox” features tremendous performances from its lead actors. Irrfan Khan is a familiar face to American movie-goers and he is absolutely terrific. His face shows so many emotions and makes him wonderful to watch. Nimrat Kaur does a great job in conveying her feelings of abandonment and the joy in her new-found friendship. Nawazuddin Siddiqui is just delightful as the puppy-like trainee. You eventually see that there is more to his character than meets the eye and he helps pull the whole movie together.
For those of us who have only seen India in movies and as a stopping point in “The Amazing Race,” Writer/director Ritesh Batra makes us feel like we are right there in the heart of Mumbai. We ride the buses and the trains, visit workplaces and spend time in a variety of neighborhoods. And watching the Dabbawala in action is utterly fascinating.
“The Lunchbox” is a quiet little movie with much to savor. One word of advice…eat beforehand…the dishes Ila prepares will have you running to your favorite Indian restaurant at the movie’s end.