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  1. Life & Culture

Review: 'The Lunchbox' is a bittersweet romance that delivers

Nimrat Kaur plays lonely wife Ila in The Lunchbox. She is nominated for best leading actress in this month’s International Indian Film Academy awards in Tampa.
Nimrat Kaur plays lonely wife Ila in The Lunchbox. She is nominated for best leading actress in this month’s International Indian Film Academy awards in Tampa.
Published Apr. 1, 2014

The Lunchbox (PG) (104 min.) — Charming hearts and making hungry stomachs growl, Ritesh Batra's bittersweet romance delights. Set amid Mumbai's courier system of lunch delivery, a mistaken dropoff creates pen pals and perhaps more of an unfulfilled housewife and a bored bureaucrat.

As the wife Ila, Nimrat Kaur earned a best leading actress nomination for this month's International Indian Film Academy (IIFA) awards in Tampa. Ila is devoted to a husband who may be cheating, hoping to regain favor by preparing him lunches of his favorite recipes. The deliveries end up with an aging, melancholy soul named Saajan, played by Irrfan Khan (The Life of Pi), whose complimentary replies flatter Ila as her husband doesn't.

Saajan is smitten, first with the food — truly mouth-watering to see — and then by Ila's notes accompanying each meal. Two people trapped in dead-end existences develop a pen pal friendship with the faint chance of escaping with each other. Kaur and Khan, who was robbed of a IIFA nod, scarcely share a frame of The Lunchbox, yet the emotional connection of their characters is palpable.

Batra's story, also an IIFA nominee, is a smooth blend of pathos and comedy, the latter provided by best supporting actor nominee Nawazuddin Siddiqui as Saajan's eager co-worker, and Lillete Dubey as Ila's unseen mother, sending her spices and advice from upstairs. The Lunchbox doesn't fit the modern Bollywood mold of flashy musicals and action, but it's just as easily adored. A (Woodlands 20 in Oldsmar)

Steve Persall, Times movie critic

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