With hundreds of movies to choose from at the Toronto International Film Festival, and with as many as nine or 10 playing simultaneously, it's more often than not a gamble to pick something special. On Friday, I haphazardly slipped into a theater and discovered the unlikeliest of love stories in an unfamiliar setting and I absolutely loved it. If my guess is right, American audiences will seek out to find The Lunchbox and the word of mouth will make it an under-the-radar art house hit.
Movies about love, food, and love of food are nothing new. But India's The Lunchbox , from first-time feature director Ritesh Batra, puts a curried-flavor spin on a familiar theme: two quite different people forge a cherished relationship, but only through correspondence.
For more than a century, nearly 5,000 so-called Dabbawallahs in Mumbai, have delivered hot meals from the kitchens of housewives to the offices of their husbands in Mumbai's inner-city, and then return the empty lunchboxes back to the homes in the afternoon. In hope of putting some spice back into her marriage, Ila (Nimrat Kaur) prepares a special lunchbox to be delivered to her husband, but a Dabbawallah mistakenly delivers the lunchbox to Saajan (Irrfan Khan), a lonely widower who is nearing retirement. When the dishes return empty with not a peep from her husband, Ila sends another hot lunch the next day with a note inside. And so begins The Lunchbox.
You just can't not like this film. It's the purest of love stories and I caution you to eat before you see this film. The food looks wonderful and my stomach grumbled for a few hours until I finally found some fine Indian cuisine later that night in midtown Toronto. Popcorn just wasn't going to suffice.
"Sometime the wrong train can take you to the right station," a character tells Saajan in The Lunchbox.
And that's exactly how I found this absolute gem; I stepped into the wrong theater and found the right movie.