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‘The Lunchbox’: Packed with insight and simple truths

Someone else’s food mistakenly is sent Saajan (Irrfan Khan) 'The Lunchbox.'  |   Sony Pictures Classics

Someone else’s food mistakenly is sent to Saajan (Irrfan Khan) in "The Lunchbox." | Sony Pictures Classics

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Saajan Irrfan Khan

Ila Nimrat Kaur

Sony Pictures Classics presents a film written and directed by Ritesh Batra. In Hindi with English subtitles. Running time: 104 minutes. Rated PG (for thematic material and smoking). Opens Friday at Landmark Century and CineArts 6 in Evanston.

Updated: April 8, 2014 6:13AM

‘The Lunchbox,” Indian director Ritesh Batra’s debut, is a witty and perceptive film that reveals the hopes, sorrows and regrets of ordinary people. Batra, also the film’s screenwriter, has created a touching and credible story that easily draws the viewer into the lives of its characters.

Ila (Nimrat Kaur), in an attempt to spark the attention of her distracted husband, prepares delectable lunches and sends them to him via a dabawallah, one of India’s horde of reliable lunchbox deliverymen.

But there’s a glitch in the system, and the lunchbox lands on the desk of Saajan (Irrfan Khan), a dour widower who is about to retire from his drab accounting job of 35 years. After the lunchbox is returned, Ila realizes the food has gone to the wrong person. The next day she encloses a note and a correspondence begins. It evolves from casual comments to the sharing of hopes and desires.

All the usual flash and color of India is absent here. In its place are the simple actions of everyday life. Saajan’s days become about waiting for the lunchbox; the evenings are spent with a book and a packaged dinner in his dimly lit apartment. Ila gets her daughter ready for school, washes clothes by hand and begins to suspect her husband is having an affair. Their epistolary friendship helps Ila and Saajan see other possibilities in life.

Batra uses this quietly lovely film as a showcase for his actors. Khan (“Life of Pi”), an actor who has an easy, graceful way in front of the camera, gives one of his best and most understated performances. The lovely Kaur gets every nuance right in her portrayal of an isolated wife and mother trying to figure out the next chapter of her life. And Nawazuddin Siddiqui, as the apprentice who takes over Saajan’s job, is the perfect comic foil.

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