TIFF 2013: The Lunchbox is a Delicious Indian Treat


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.