Set in Mumbai, The Lunchbox is one of the most charming films you will see this year, while also shining a light into loneliness and a weary sense of despair in the lives of its two protagonists. The film is predicated on Mumbai’s food delivery service, which each day arranges collection of an elaborate meal, often cooked by wives at home in the suburbs.

Typically, the meal is delivered to the office worker husband by one of 5,000 delivery men called Dabbawallahs. Many of these dabbawallahs are illiterate, but delivery to the wrong address is practically unheard of. A Harvard University study concluded that just one in eight million lunchboxes goes astray.

That one stray lunchbox sent by the dutiful, eager-to-please housewife Ila (Nimrat Kaur) is the catalyst for Ritesh Batra’s delightful debut feature. Irrfan Khan (The Namesake) plays the introverted accountant Saajan, who plans to retire shortly from his job at the claims department of a large insurance firm.

Irrfan Khan is fascinating in the Saajan role, his permanent expression of troubled composure impervious to the city milling around him.

Saajan is so disenchanted by the company of others that he tries to avoid training the eager young man Shaikh (Nawazuddin Siddiqui ) who is to be his successor. Yet by dint of persistent charm, Shaikh worms his way into Saajan’s company and effects a thaw in the frosty exterior. 

One day, he chooses to open the little green sack, containing the tiered aluminium lunch-box which has arrived on his desk by mistake. Rather than trying to find out its rightful destination, he asks no questions, and simply enjoys the delicious food. Next day a note arrives in the lunchbox, complaining that he had not thanked the cook.

Soon notes are going back and forth, included with the food in the lunchbox, as two strangers begin to communicate with each other, despite the heavy burdens they carry. Absorbing and heartfelt, The Lunchbox augurs well for future work from director Ritesh Batra.

Paddy Kehoe