It’s ‘84 Charing Cross Road’ with extra chutney in this enormously likeable Indian romantic comedy-drama. Irrfan Khan plays the grouchy, widowed claims adjuster who discovers that his lunch has been accidentally switched with a co-worker’s. Instead of notifying the delivery service he tucks in, and is transported to culinary heaven in the magical hands of isolated housewife Ila (Nimrat Kaur). It’s not long before this mismatched pair are exchanging furtive letters tucked into folded chapatis.
There’s nothing wildly original here, but it’s carried off with charm and wit, and a pair of very enjoyable central performances. The sense of place – bustling, teeming modern Mumbai – is superbly realised, and there’s an air of wistfulness and melancholy which feels pleasingly out of step with many of the film’s Western forebears: it’s hard to imagine Tom Hanks in ‘You’ve Got Mail’ – or even, for that matter, Woody Allen – recognising that he’s over the hill because his bathroom has begun to smell like his grandfather’s.
‘The Lunchbox’ never quite makes the most of its intriguing setup – writer-director Ritesh Batra seems torn between romance and realism, and the film tries a little too hard to cover both bases. But those who like their character comedy rich, sweet and just a little broad will find plentiful pleasures here.