In this lovely little Indian chick flick, two lonely strangers meet through an accidental food delivery mix-up. Saajan is an accountant, a month away from early retirement when he starts receiving the wrong lunchbox from his lunch delivery person. I didn’t know that there were such wonderful services available, but in Mumbai, thousands of people have hot lunches brought to their offices daily, many cooked at home just hours before. In this case, Ila thinks she is cooking for her emotionally distant husband, but once she finds out that another man is appreciating her cooking, she keeps on sending him her delicious food. It helps that Saajan has sent a note to her in the returned lunchbox praising her culinary skills, something her husband has never done. Soon she is sending food with her own notes, which he is happy to respond to, and their relationship develops from there.
Saajan is a widower and leads a pretty cut off life. Socially, he is a bit of a curmudgeon, but through his notes with Ila, he enters the world again. A concurrent story is his relationship with an overly solicitous young man named Shaikh who he is supposed to train to be his replacement. He initially is irritated by him, but their relationship also evolves as Saajan comes out of his self-imposed seclusion.
The Lunchbox is a first feature from writer-director Ritesh Batra, and I expect great things from him having seen this debut. He has brought a simple, sweet story to the screen, and one that could easily have been bogged down by the main characters never being in the same frame. Their entire relationship is told in letters and in their reactions to them, and yet you feel their emotional interactions as deeply as if they were in the same room. Bringing this story to life is a wonderful cast including Irrfan Khan, who would be familiar to Western viewers from his roles in films such as Life of Pi and Slumdog Millionaire, the very talented and beautiful Nimrat Kaur as Ila, and Nawazuddin Siddiqui who plays Shaikh with a perfect mix of comedy and heart. And rounding out this great ensemble is the never seen Auntie (Bharati Achrekar), who lives upstairs from Ila and gives her sage relationship and tasty culinary advice. All in all it’s a great little feel good chick flick, well worth the price of admission. Go see it and plan to stop by your favorite Indian restaurant for a bite after. You’ll be glad you did.
Warning to those who cannot watch films with subtitles! Most of the film is in Hindi with bits of English here and there. But it is worth reading. Really.