DIR: Ritesh Batra | Cinema of our Time | India, France, Germany | 2013 | 104 min. | DCP
Tue, Oct 08 04:30 pm | Rio Theatre (19+)
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The most talked-about Indian film of the year, it first won hearts at Cannes Critics Week in May, then hit box-office success across India just last month. In this simple and heartfelt film, leading man Irrfan Khan—best known here for his roles as the police inspector in Slumdog Millionaire (2008), or the adult Pi Patel in 2012’s Life of Pi—is Sajaan Fernandez, a widower nearing retirement from a 35-year career as a government paper pusher, perpetually weary, angry, and frustrated with life in crowded Mubai. Across town, Ila (Nimrat Kaur), a young, neglected housewife, strives to earn her workaholic husband’s attention by perfecting her cooking, but to no avail. When the lunch box (dabba) delivery man (part of Mumbai’s famed dabbawalla network, into which viewers are also treated to a documentary-like peek) begins delivering Ila’s delicious home-cooked lunches to Sajaan’s desk in error, it sparks a series of increasingly personal handwritten letters exchanged inside the containers.
Director Ritesh Batra perfectly exploits the phenomenal acting talents of both Khan and Kaur with long, thoughtful takes that slowly capture their lonely lives converging in an impossible relationship that is thankfully not as “rom-com” as the trailers let on. Batra also deftly conveys the gradual intertwining of Sajaan’s and Ila’s worlds and thoughts using musical clues that seep from one’s scene into the other’s, and subtly shared moments as simple as swatting at flies or getting stuck in traffic. Even Sajaan’s obnoxiously talkative apprentice, Shaikh (Bollywood big-timer Nawazuddin Siddiqui), evolves into an unexpectedly complex role, not only providing comic contrast to the two desolate souls, but also (as an orphan with a good job and a fiancée) the living example of hard-won happiness.
A one-time favourite for the country’s 2013 Oscar contender, many believe this gentle feature was robbed of the honour by lesser-known Gujarati-language flick The Good Road. Although admittedly still not on par with the ingenuity of Slumdog Millionaire, the film boasts nonetheless inspired performances while sharing many of the same refrains about love and destiny. Impossible to leave without craving both curry and companionship.