Food and fate play major roles in “The Lunchbox,” a touching romantic drama that shines a light on a fascinating aspect of life in modern India.
In Mumbai, office workers get hot lunch, cooked either by their wives or a restaurant, in containers (called “dabbas”) from a complex distribution web of deliverymen — the Dabbawallahs. Mistakes are said to be rare, but one happens when Ila (Nimrat Kaur), a lonely middle-class housewife, learns that her inattentive husband (Nakul Vaid) isn’t getting her homemade lunches.
One day Ila leaves a note with the bread and gets a reply from the recipient of her cooking: Saajan (played by “Life of Pi” narrator Irrfan Khan), a widower approaching early retirement at his government desk job. A relationship develops through letters as Ila pours out her heart to this stranger in ways she could never do with anyone else. Meanwhile, Saajan befriends a trainee clerk (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) who makes him think of his youth.
Writer-director Ritesh Batra makes a soulful feature debut, catching glimpses of the lively Mumbai streets while gingerly capturing the heartache of two lonely people finding an unexpected connection.
Opens today at the Broadway Centre Cinemas; rated PG for thematic material and smoking; mostly in Hindi, with subtitles; 104 minutes.