Friday, April 18, 2014

THE LUNCHBOX Is Made With Sensitivity And Care

Now playing at an art house theater near me...

THE LUNCHBOX (Dir. Ritesh Batra, 2013)

At first, the premise of this little Indian drama may seem slight - i.e. two strangers exchange notes by way of Mumbai’s famously efficient lunchbox delivery system - but the heartfelt humbleness, likability of the leads, and overall sweetness make THE LUNCHBOX a very rich treat indeed.

Irrfan Khan, a big Bollywood star who’s crossed over to American movies such as LIFE OF PI and THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN, stars as a stoic accountant living a lonely life after the death of his beloved wife. Meanwhile across town, a neglected housewife (the lovely Nimrat Kaur) hopes to reconnect with her distant husband (Nakul Vaid) by preparing a special meal as a surprise for his lunch at work.

Somehow there’s a mix-up and Khan ends up getting the stainless steel dishes of Kaur’s delicious food delivered to his workplace. When Kaur’s spouse has little to say about the meal, she realizes what has happened and sends a note along with the lunch the next day.

Khan and Kaur then develop a correspondence, revealing intimate details about their sad existences in tender, touching scenes in which the actor’s voice-overs convey a lot of sincere emotion (it’s in Hindi with subtitles, but the warmth can be strongly felt).

As Khan is on the verge of retirement, he is training a giddy over-eager assistant to replace him (Nawazuddin Siddiqui). Khan is annoyed at first by the giddy over-eager Siddiqui, but they forge a bond that goes from a mentor/apprentice type relationship to something resembling that of father/son.

Siddiqui even succinctly sums up Khan’s budding romance: “Sometimes even the wrong train can take you to the right destination.”

Khan puts in a powerfully subtle performance that really got under my skin - when he forms the tiniest twinge of a smile it can be deeply felt. The man deserves to be a major star – maybe his upcoming role in next summer’s JURASSIC WORLD will help make that happen.

Kaur also excels; you’ll feel for her when she speaks of suspecting that her husband is cheating on her. A scene where she goes to report the swapped meal mistake and is told by the carrier that the service doesn’t make mistakes, shows she has an understated flair for light comedy.

Sure it can be seen as an Indian adaptation of YOU’VE GOT MAIL (or THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER if you want to get technical), but the feature length debut from filmmaker Ritesh Batra, who co-wrote with Rutvik Oza, transcends its familiar premise terrifically.

THE LUNCHBOX (“Dabba” in Hindi) is a real charmer, made with sensitivity and care, much like the mouth-watering dishes that Kaur’s character cooks that we see stunning overhead close-ups of (beautifully shot by Michael Simmonds). It’s a satisfying feast (yeah, I know, every critic is going to use culinary jargon in their review) of a film, but it may make you really hungry for some fine Indian cuisine way before the credits roll. So plan yourself a nice Indian dinner out afterwards, and remember not to fill up on popcorn.

More later...

No comments: