As his documentary developed, Batra realized he had a delightful story to tell of that one dabba that goes astray. The result is the marvelous fictional film "The Lunchbox." In it, on a daily basis, neglected wife Ila lovingly prepares a fine meal, with the always off-screen help of her upstairs neighbor called Auntie. They talk back and forth through their open windows, Auntie providing a basket on a rope that brings Ila peppers and other ingredients. One day, Ila's lunchbox goes not to her indifferent husband but to widower Saajan, ready to retire, dispirited, lonely.
Saajan gets roped into training Shaikh, a vivacious replacement for this paper-pushing desk job in a claims department. As the title lunchbox travels from Ila to Saajan and back again, notes are exchanged and a poignant relationship develops. Further enriching the story, Ila lives in a conservative Hindu neighborhood, Saajan in a Christian one, and the orphan Shaikh adds a Muslim component. It's a rich feast with varied ingredients, each adding a new dimension.
Ritesh Batra's debut feature film reveals a mature talent, a writer/director who uses compositions to telegraph the entrapment of his characters and who expertly uses minimal music and sound. Quietly, tension and anticipation build. As he developed the script, Batra kept a note in front of himself: "Less is more." He trusts his story and his audience with his heartfelt, humane story.
As Saajan, the soulful Irrfan Khan commands his environment with a mere shift of his eyes, the slightest adjustment of his body. Khan, known for "Slumdog Millionaire" and "The Life of Pi," understands exactly how to convey suppressed emotion, as does Nimrat Kaur as Ila, whose disappointment is clear but never maudlin. As Shaikh, Nawazuddin Siffiqui infuses nonstop energy. "The Lunchbox" is a gem, one of the best films of the year. In Hindi with English subtitles and some English. At a Landmark Theatre.