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Sleepless in Mumbai: A quirky, romantic comedy - Indian style

"The Lunchbox": Two people become friends via mis-delivered lunch box

Irrfan Khan as Saajan / photo by Michael Simmonds, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

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Fried things filled with more fried things and then deep-fried. Bits of meat and vegetables suspended in thick sauces and pastes ladled over rice, seasoned with a rich, exotic medley of the most powerful spices this side of a Dune novel. All of it so succulently semisolid you can almost eat it without chewing, much like an anaconda, a baby - or an anaconda swallowing a baby. Indian food should only exist in the dreams of the most gluttonous gourmands.

Thankfully, India is a real place operating outside of Fevered Fat-Folk Food FantasiesTM, and it's unsurprising that the culture that saw fit to combine peanut butter and chicken into one dish takes things to a whole different level on their home turf. You can get homemade beef vindaloo or tandoori lamb delivered to your job. No, not takeout. Homemade.

In India, couriers called dabbawalas pick up lunch from your home, (lovingly prepared by your significant other or family member), deliver it to your workplace and then retrieve and return your empty lunchbox before the working day is over. Here you're stuck with a leftover Cup O' Noodles and a bologna sandwich that've been congealing in the office fridge for three hours. Yum.

Of course, in a country with more than a billion people, there's bound to be an occasional delivery mix-up. Thus, the stage is set for Ritesh Batra's The Lunchbox.

They say the way to a man's heart is through his stomach. Devoted housewife Ila (Nimrat Kaur) puts that old idiom to the test, laboring excessively over her husband's lunches in the hopes of rekindling her loveless marriage. Sadly, her efforts don't have the desired effect, and things go further awry when one of the designer lunches intended for Ila's emotionally distant husband is delivered to grieving widower Saajan (Irrfan Khan, known to American audiences for his roles in Slumdog Millionaire, Life of Pi and many others).

Mumbai's dabbawalas soon pull double-duty as unwitting postal carriers when the ignored wife and the lonely widower form a relationship through secret correspondence via lunchbox.

Solid performances abound. Both Kaur and Khan do a great job making you empathize with them. You laugh with them, you cry with them and you desperately want to see them happy. It's impressive work, especially when considering the language barrier. Khan provides a welcome familiar face amidst a cast that is largely unknown in this part of the world. (If this film is any indication, however, that won't be the case for much longer.)

The romantic comedy is a tried-and-true formula with decades of films and centuries of plays and books in the genre. It's familiar fare, but it hasn't lost its charm. The Lunchbox provides American audiences a new take on the material by transporting the story to a fresh locale and peppered with plot conventions unique to the setting.

If this were made stateside, it would almost certainly star Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan, and all they'd have for lunch is PB & J.

THE LUNCHBOX, opens Friday, April 11, The Grand Cinema, 606 S. Fawcett Ave., Tacoma, 253.593.4474

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