Indian cinema has dined out on the love story for decades but in the 2010s, the simple love story seems to have been shifted to the backburner as filmmaker’s chase Rs 100 crore pots of gold. In this scenario, writer-director Ritesh Batra has come up with a tasty, charming, simple love story. The romance is not just between the disappointed and helpless housewife who is using food to reach out to a marriage she sees slipping away from her and the lonely man facing retirement, it also between Batra and Mumbai.
Irrfan Khan is outstanding as Saajan Fernandes the quiet widower who gets jolted out of his humdrum file-pushing routine when the wrong dabba lands on his office table. The home cooked food, garnished with a wife’s desperate need to connect with her husband, enlivens him. Soon an exchange of notes begins, tucked under warm chappatis and in licked-clean empty boxes. Khan’s expressions and body language convey so much so effectively.
In her small apartment in middle class Mumbai, where a faceless but loudly supportively neighbour (Bharti Achrekar) encourages her recipes, is Ila played with subtlety and control by Nimrat Kaur. The daily correspondence adds a spring to her step and suddenly both their lives seem brighter.
Batra never judges, and nor do you. The wrongly delivered dabba you realize may have been more miracle than mistake. He even adds humour when the dabbawala, reprimanded by Ila, invokes Harvard including the dabba system as a case study in their programme.
In the midst of this unfolding relationship there is another brewing – between the new recruit primed to replace Saajan on his retirement. Nawazuddin Siddiqui’s Shaikh is a third commendable performance and scenes between him and Khan are electric. The track of Ila’s mother seemed a bit manipulative. That, a few predictable plot points and eked out scenes are other minor niggles in an otherwise charming and highly satisfying cinematic treat.