The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - CINEMA - DON­ALD CLARKE

PG cert, IFI/Light House, Dublin, 104 min


Di­rected by Ritesh Ba­tra. Star­ring Ir­rfan Khan, Nim­rat Kaur, Nawazud­din Sid­diqui, Den­zil Smith, Bharati Achrekar PG cert, IFI/Light House, Dublind, 104 min

If you felt like be­ing a jerk, you could ar­gue that this poignant In­dian drama looks to have been con­structed with the over­seas mar­ket in mind. It makes sure to in­clude sec­ond-unit shots of Mum­bai at its most ex­otic. The film has much to do with con­spic­u­ously de­li­cious lo­cal food. The largely epis­to­lary ro­mance takes cues from that in Ernst Lu­bitsch’s time­less The Shop Around the Cor­ner (it­self the ba­sis for You’ve Got Mail).

So what? The Lunch­box re­mains one of those films that gives words like “ten­der” and “touch­ing” a good name. You would need to be some sort of monster to re­sist its charms.

The pic­ture’s cen­tral mis­un­der­stand­ing adds fur­ther an­thro­po­log­i­cal de­tail to the de­pic­tion of Mum­bai. Ila (Nim­rat Kaur), a mod­estly un­happy young woman, makes lunch for her hus­band each morn­ing and dis­patches it to his workplace via the de­liv­ery­men known as dab­bawal­lahs. Some­how or other (the switch is never ex­plained) Ila’s food ends up go­ing to a wid­owed mid­dle-aged in­sur­ance worker named Saa­jan (Ir­rfan Khan).

Ila’s hus­band barely reg­is­ters the con­fu­sion, but Saa­jan is quite taken with the splen­did cur­ries and daals. He and Ila be­gin ex­chang­ing letters via the un­aware dab­bawal­lahs. When Ila gets wind that her hus­band might be hav­ing an af­fair, she con­sid­ers run­ning away with her re­mote cor­re­spon­dent.

The film is rich with gen­tle hu­mour that re­veals truths about the two lik­able lead char­ac­ters. Ila is end­lessly pa­tient with a chat­ter­ing “Aun­tie” who, never seen, of­fers ad­vice from the flat up­stairs. Saa­jan is ini­tially wretched to a young ap­pren­tice, but, soft­ened by his new re­la­tion­ship, ends up eas­ing the young man’s path.

What re­ally makes the film soar, how­ever, are the per­for­mances. Kaur even­tu­ally breaks like an in­jured bird while Khan, as in­ward and care­ful in his move­ments as ever, con­firms his sta­tus as one of the very great­est ac­tors in world cin­ema. The Lunch­box doesn’t quite deliver him the meaty role he de­serves, but that is sure to some soon.

Daal dear­est: Ir­rfan Khan in The Lunch­box

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