Ila, a Mumbai housewife sends her husband his lunch in a customary Indian tiffin that’s color -coded and brought to his desk by specially trained delivery men on bikes.
Insecure about the coolness in their marriage, she prepares a particularly aromatic meal on the advice of the upstairs neighbor, Auntie, who is heard but never seen.
Even though the delivery system has been vetted and approved by the Harvard Business School, the lunch goes to the wrong man.
Ila realizes this quickly but annoyed by her husband’s indifference and spurred on by Auntie, the voice of experience from on high, she continues to send increasingly delicious and fragrant meals to the man she doesn’t know, initiating a correspondence between them that becomes far more intimate and meaningful than her dissolving marriage and his widowed loneliness.
Within this somewhat familiar plot lies a movie of poetic and subtle restraint in which the simplest sentences and smallest changes of expression are conveyed by two remarkable actors - Irrfan Khan and Nimrat Kaur. The former has appeared in one season of In Treatment and in The Life of Pi - his luminescent eyes and total command of the screen give us an instant read on his retreat from life and his guarded protection of his feelings from any further hurt. We see his annoyance with the neighborhood children whose ball invades his gated space; we see him eating his lunch alone day after day and we see his prickly resistance to the garrulous and sycophantic new employee who has been hired to replace him when he retires and whom he is expected to train.
As the lunches and letters keep coming, we see the break in his armor and a disarming smile spread across his handsome face. Suddenly, the man who stood in the crowded train boxed in by other commuters is standing on the edge near an open window with his hair blowing in the breeze.
The man who threatened the street urchins can gaze lovingly out his window at the scene of family warmth in the apartment across the way and smile at the little girl who had previously rattled him.
His annoyed relationship with the new replacement softens into tolerance of that man’s inadequacies and compassion for his orphanhood - a paternal friendship develops.
There are surprises in his relationship with Ila and in her re-appraisal of her marriage and her understanding of her mother; to reveal more would be a spoiler.
Ratesh Batra wrote and directed this gem which has not a moment of superfluous dialogue or contrivance. The artist’s view is an oblique one : we only hear Auntie, we see Ila’s sick father from a rear camera angle of his hospital bed where his outstretched legs stand in for his person.
For most of the movie, we are watching two people draw close without ever connecting in person, as well as the opposite - people standing cheek by jowl in an overcrowded train or working in a huge office in an over-populated city but remaining detached and lonely. The movie has an unhurried pace with a total avoidance of melodrama yet it will move you powerfully. Fulfill yourself and see it.
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