by Jeff Niesel
Shot as if it were a documentary set in Mumbai, writer-director Ritesh Batra’s new film The Lunchbox, a hit in India where it was released last year, starts slow. But like the slow-developing romance at the heart of the film, it picks up to become a very elegant tale about unrequited love. The movie opens today at the Cedar Lee Theatre.
The film follows Saajan (Irfan Khan), a factory worker who’s held the same claims department job for 35 years. An introvert who goes about his work with a quiet diligence, he doesn’t take kindly to the appearance of the well-intentioned but pesky Shaikh (Nawazuddin Siddiqui), the man he’s supposed to be train to be his replacement. But that’s just one of several changes that take place in Saajan’s life, disrupting the routine to which the man is wedded.
When Saajan accidently receives a “dabbas,” or lunchbox, that Illa (Nimrat Kaur) intended for her husband, he loves the food so much that he writes her a nice note, though he doesn’t know that she is married and much younger. Illa is struck by the letter and writes him back. The two subsequently begin a series of exchanges that blossom into a romance even though they've never met. They bring each other out of their respective funks (he’s been depressed ever since his wife died and she’s married to an insensitive man who barely speaks to her). It's only a matter of time before they arrange to meet for the first time.
The Lunchbox is a understated film that benefits from some fine performances. Khan is terrific as the introverted Saajan and the beautiful Kaur is excellent as the conflicted Ila. Who knew that a movie about a silver cylinder lunchbox could be so compelling?