Delightful Mumbai-set drama about an unlikely relationship
This warm and funny Indian film takes a set-up worthy of the great romantic comedies of Hollywood's golden era and develops it into a touching story of connection, with echoes of Lost in Translation in its tone and characterisation.
In bustling Mumbai, young mother Ila (Nimrat Kaur) senses her husband's attentions slipping away, so she prepares a multi-layered lunchbox to be delivered by bike courier to his office: as her elderly upstairs neighbour and confidant advises, food is the principle way to a man's heart. But the couriers, who take lunches to office-workers all over the city, mistakenly deliver Ila's to the desk of Sajaan (Irrfan Khan), a grumpy middle-aged accountant on the cusp of early retirement. When Ila discovers the mistake she decides not to report it, but rather to communicate with the clearly grateful recipient, adding a note of explanation in with the next day's mouth-watering meal. Sajaan responds with a note of his own, and so a correspondence begins.
Debut director Ritesh Batra establishes his story and characters with beautiful economy, inviting our curiosity about the stern, closed Sajaan while drawing us into the contrast of Ila's warm kitchen and cold marriage. Khan, one of India's most internationally recognised actors, plays Sajaan with subtlety and deadpan humour while Kaur, a relative newcomer, demonstrates irresistible screen presence.
Batra's script, co-written with Rutvik Oza, is structured with the precision of a Hollywood rom-com, but the characters are drawn with greater compassion and individuality than the initially formulaic set-up suggests. A case in point is a sub-plot involving Sajaan's trainee Shaikh (Nawazuddin Siddiqui), which seems to serve purely as comic relief but unexpectedly develops into a substantial, moving aspect of the story. It adds up to a delightful film experience, but one that should come with a warning about its constant scenes of delicious food preparation. Watch on an empty stomach at your own risk.
Reviewed at Glasgow Film Festival 2014. Limited release from Fri 11 Apr.