Ritesh Batra's The Lunchbox is set in Mumbai, where a fraternity of 5,000 men, the dabbawallas, have been delivering hot lunches from the city's housewives to their businessman husbands for the past 120 years. According to a Harvard study, only one in a million Mumbai lunches is delivered to the wrong person. The Lunchbox tells the story of one such unlikely lunchbox and the even more unlikely bond that forms between an unhappy stay-at-home mother, Ila (the irresistible Nimrat Kaur), and Sajaan, a widower accountant on the verge of retirement. Sajaan, played by veteran Bollywood star Irrfan Khan, receives the lunchbox intended for Ila's husband, and a sweet and thoughtful exchange of notes begins. Food, of course, plays an important role. At the beginning of the film, Ila is learning to cook in order to spark her husband's dampened interest, but because of the mixup with the lunchbox, her food ends up providing Sajaan with what he needs most at this point in his life: something to look forward to. Batra allows Ila and Sajaan's relationship to develop slowly and subtly, like an old photograph, and the tender humor (much of it courtesy of Nawazuddin Siddiqui as Shaikh, Sajaan's orphaned protégé) adds exactly the right amount of spice to what is already a delicious mix of melancholy and hope.
Critic's Grade: A
SEE IT: The Lunchbox is rated PG. It opens Friday at Fox Tower.