September 01, 2013 4:27pm PT by Scott Feinberg
Telluride: Indian Oscar Hopeful 'The Lunchbox' Delivers Tasty Surprise
TELLURIDE, Colo. -- One of the big fan favorites of the 40th Telluride Flm fest has been Ritesh Batra's feature directorial debut The Lunchbox, an Indian-Hindi film -- known in India as Dabba -- that I caught up with this morning at the Werner Herzog Theatre. The film, which was made with the guidance of the Sundance Institute and premiered back in May as part of the International Critics' Week competition at the Cannes Film Festival, is set in Mumbai and focuses on an unlikely relationship that develops through dabbawala, or the lunchbox service that transports lunch to office workers in India. To me, the film is reminiscent of The Shop Around the Corner (1940) or You've Got Mail (1997) -- only with food instead of letters or emails. Sony Pictures Classics will release the film later this year, and it seems likely that the film will be India's submission in this year's best foreign language film Oscar race.
The film focuses on a grumpy old widower on the brink of retirement after 35 years as a government claims processor (the great vet Irrfan Khan) and a young wife and mother whose husband barely notices her anymore (beautiful up-and-comer Nimrat Kaur). These two lonely souls, who live in a sprawling and overpopulated city in which it's easy to feel forgotten, cross paths in the most unlikely of ways: when the lunch that she prepares for daily delivery to her husband is mistakenly redirected to him, and this becomes apparent to her, and they begin a correspondence -- via the lunchbox.
The film features cute humor -- for instance, a never seen auntie who lives a floor above and has an opinion to share about everything -- and fetishizes food in a way that will send you out of the theater rushing for the nearest restaurant, not unlike the recent doc Jiro Dreams of Sushi (2011).
Follow Scott on Twitter @ScottFeinberg for additional news and analysis.