Starring Irrfan Khan, Nimrat Kaur, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Denzil Smith; directed by Ritesh Batra; 104 minutes; PG-13 for thematic material and smoking; in Hindi with English subtitles; B


A gentle tale of two strangers who become something more, "The Lunchbox" takes place in contemporary Mumbai, India, a city whose constant noise, crowds and colors emphasize the miracle of one person ever finding another. Ila (Nimrat Kaur) is a homemaker who cooks a hot lunch for her distant, neglectful husband every day, brought to him at the office by the city's busy lunch-delivery service. But the famously efficient couriers make a rare mistake, and Ila's tasty lunch gets sent to a lonely widower and near-retiree, Saajan (Irrfan Khan).

Soon, that lunchbox becomes itself a courier, transporting notes between Ila and Saajan and their very different worlds: Ila's cramped kitchen, where an upstairs neighbor ("Auntie") shouts cooking suggestions down the fire escape; Saajan's crowded office, free of computers but piled high with worn-looking ledgers and files. At home, Saajan eats unappetizing-looking food from plastic containers, and gazes wistfully at the family next door. "I don't know when I became old," he ponders, in a note; Ila, watching her marriage fade away, writes "What do we live for?" It's a slight hook to hang a movie on, but "The Lunchbox" is nonetheless a pleasure, from the fascinating intricacies of Mumbai-style interlocking lunch containers to the quietly masterful performance of Khan.

"The Lunchbox" ends on a pleasantly ambiguous note, and a wise reminder: "Sometimes, the wrong train will get you to the right station."

Moira Macdonald, The Seattle Times