It's never too late to break out of our self-imposed prisons. That's the take-home message delivered in The Lunchbox, the warm and engaging debut feature from Indian filmmaker Ritesh Batra. Among its many pleasures, the film takes us into the world of the dabbawalas, a real-world, 120-year-old community in the Indian megacity of Mumbai that has developed a unique and remarkably efficient system of numbers and color codes for delivering lunches. The dabbawalas pick up homemade meals made by thousands of dutiful wives in late morning, navigate the teeming city of 20 million people by whatever means necessary, deliver the lunches to office-bound husbands, and return the empty, multi-tiered canisters by early afternoon. The Lunchbox is a fictional story of a lonely housewife (Nimrat Kaur) and an isolated widower (Bollywood veteran Irrfan Khan) who connect via a series of handwritten notes when a delivery goes awry.
Writer/director Batra earned a film degree from New York University and participated in the Sundance Institute's screenwriters and directors labs that have recently launched many promising film careers, but he grew up in Mumbai and shot The Lunchbox there on location. His insider's eye for the daily life of the city renders Mumbai a central character in the film and creates an open window on another world. The anonymity of life in a big city is universal, providing the ideal setting for Batra's uplifting, often funny and largely unsentimental tale. Sometimes the most enjoyable films are the ones least expected.