The anonymous love letter -- or even email -- is a romantic convention so tried and true you wonder where anyone would find the nerve to try it again. For "The Lunchbox" they found it in Mumbai, home of the world's most efficient lunch-delivery system: Wives prepare their husbands' midday meals, hand them off to a courier, the curried cauliflower is delivered hot, on the appointed desk, before the appropriate clerk. Except for this one time . . .
Subscribing to both the everyone-has-a-soulmate theory of love and the no sourpuss-is-beyond-redemption school of human behavior, "The Lunchbox" eschews any postcard versions of India for overpopulation and drudgery. Saajan (the wonderful Irrfan Khan, of "Life of Pi") has worked with cheerless efficiency for 35 years, processing claims at a government insurance office, and has had his lunch delivered every day from the same hellhole papadum palace, when he gets an unexpected treat: A lunch so delicious he virtually licks the bowls, before sending back the lunchbox.
When it arrives, the cook is pleased -- Ila (the beautiful Nimrat Kaur) has been trying to woo back her husband with various subcontinental delicacies. But she soon realizes that the lunch went to the wrong office. And that her husband has been spending his noontimes somewhere else.
So she writes a note, and a correspondence begins, between Saajan, a widower so grouchy he's rumored to have kicked a cat under a bus ("No," he jokes to his nervous new assistant, played by Nawazuddin Siddiqui, "it was a blind man.") and the woman too young for him, but whom he begins to care for anyway. What this not-so-long-distance love does for their dispositions you can see coming. What's unexpected is the degree of emotional satisfaction to be gotten from a story that's close to a fairy tale, maybe with a side order of vindaloo.
PLOT A misdirected meal in Mumbai initiates a romantic correspondence between an unhappy young wife and a churlish accountant.
RATING PG (thematic material and smoking)
CAST Irrfan Khan, Nimrat Kaur, Nawazuddin Siddiqui
BOTTOM LINE Warm, and warmly predictable. (In English and Hindi with English subtitles)