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ADVANCE: The Lunchbox - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
ADVANCE: The Lunchbox
Directing: A-
Acting: B+
Writing: A-
Cinematography: B+
Editing: A-

The Lunchbox is neither particularly amazing or stunning, but that should not detract from it being otherwise nearly flawless. This is the story of an unusual connection, which offers a host of unique charms.

Beyond simple drama with a healthy sprinkling of humor, this story also defies easy categorization. I hesitate to call it a "romance," although I suppose technically that's what it is. But director and co-writer Ritesh Batra takes a decidedly old-school approach to it. It's in a way an Indian version of The Shop Around the Corner -- which was remade in 1998 as You've Got Mail, but this bears a greater resemblance to the original. There is no email in this movie (though it does get one mention), only letters. And instead of around the corner, this movie could be called The Lunch Maker Across Town.

The town in this case is actually one of the biggest cities in the world: Mumbai. Here we are introduced to an elaborately designed lunch delivery system, where we follow the lunch from its preparation in an apartment, to bicycle delivery men, through trains and on to the office desks that are their final destination. And these are lovely lunchboxes, by the way: several semi-shallow circular cans that stack and serve as lids for each other, to hold the separate components of an Indian meal: different vegetable dishes; rice; parathas. I want to get one of those lunches mailed to me at work every day.

Ila (the beautiful Nimrat Kaur) has hired a lunchbox service to send her homemade lunch to her distracted husband. With the aide of an "auntie" who lives upstairs (a woman we never see, only hear), she makes a truly delicious meal, in the hopes there is truth to making a way to a man's heart through his stomach. Except her lunchbox winds up getting delivered to the wrong man.

Saajan (the always wonderful Irrfan Khan) is a quiet, hard-working man about to retire. Given his resistance to training his replacement, Shaikh (Nawazuddin Siddiqui), you could say Saajan is not exactly a people person. But when he mistakenly receives Ila's lunchbox, the food is so exquisite he all but licks the dishes clean. This, in turn, makes Ila think her husband has loved the food she sent him.

But, when Ila's husband comes home and tells her the cauliflower was good as usual, Ila realizes the mistake. Instead of revealing it to her husband, who doesn't seem to care one way or the other, she sends another lunch to Saajan, with a note thanking him for the few hours of happiness she got thinking she had pleased her husband.

And so begins the correspondence, something new shaking up the lives of both these people. Eventually they move on to more personal confiding, although nothing terribly intimate. Between that and Saajan's grudging development of friendship with Shaikh, however, the story is infused with heart and a healthy amount of humor.

There is a point at which Ila's husband asks her to stop making him cauliflower because it gives him gas. If I wanted to get nitpicky, I'd ask why he never brings it up again, because she does not set the mistaken address straight. But maybe it's because the husband is so distracted by other interests, the very reason Ila becomes taken with this correspondence.

There is a peculiarly comforting atmosphere to The Lunchbox, even as it follows people through the overcrowded throngs of Mumbai, and focuses on the hopes and insecurities of just two individuals among them. Movies so focused on food are not always so successful at conveying the ways it can affect people. But you can practically taste those lunches Saajan is eating -- along with Shaikh, who clearly hopes for a share of it as soon as he gets a whiff.

Eventually Ila and Saajan decide they must meet, and this is the only place where romance is even hinted at -- and it's so effectively subtle, you can miss it if not paying attention. Such a thing is fraught with a multitude of implications, both economical and cultural, but Batra finds a way to skirt them by providing an ambiguous ending, which is still perfectly satisfying.

There is very little, if anything, to find fault in The Lunchbox, a simple and lovely movie that both takes its time and is perfectly paced. Not a minute of this film feels like time wasted, and you leave at the end feeling just as well fed as Saajan has been.

Irrfan Khan gets involved in a surprising correspondence in THE LUNCHBOX.

Overall: A-

Coming in February.
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