March 28, 2014 at 1:00 am

Tom Long

Review: Deft 'Lunchbox' offers up coincidence and connection

A mistaken lunchbox delivery sparks emotion in a young housewife (Nimrat Kaur) in 'The Lunchbox.' (Sony Pictures Classics)

There’s a sad irony that runs through “The Lunchbox,” a pervading sense of isolation despite the constant crush of surrounding humanity.

The setting is Mumbai, where young and beautiful housewife and mother Ila (Nimrat Kaur) is struggling to please her oblivious husband by fixing him a delicious lunch. The lunch gets packed in a tower of tin containers and carried off by a worker, a cog in an elaborate lunch-delivery operation that apparently operates daily in the Indian city.

Except the lunch doesn’t reach Ila’s husband; it ends up on the desk of a billing agent, Sajaan (Irrfan Khan from “Slumdog Millionaire”), who is readying for retirement. Thinking it is his restaurant-ordered meal, and that the restaurant has outdone itself, he eats every bite. When Ila gets the emptied containers back later she figures her husband must be very pleased.

So Ila keeps cooking and Sajaan keeps eating. They also begin sending notes in the containers, realizing and then enjoying the wrong deliveries. Essentially they are two lonely people reaching out to one another, each baring their soul safely to a stranger on bits of paper.

It’s a revealing process, and first-time writer-director Ritesh Batra, using both comic and touching notes, weaves it through a noisy picture of Mumbai’s overcrowded streets. He also introduces a young worker, Shaikh (Nawazuddin Siddiqui), who tries to break through Sajaan’s taciturn exterior, another soul reaching out.

Eventually, Ila must face her loveless marriage and Sajaan his looming empty retirement. Is each the answer to the other’s problem, or are they simply the inspiration needed to face those problems? “The Lunchbox” doesn’t offer easy solutions, but it is filled with keen observations. All meals should be this satisfying.

'The Lunchbox'

GRADE: B+

Rated PG for thematic material and smoking

Running time: 104 minutes

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