Kitchen Stove Film Festival showing The Lunchbox

A mistaken delivery paves the way for an unlikely romance in the Kitchen Stove Film Series next showing, The Lunchbox.

Irrfan Khan (Life of Pi, Slumdog Millionaire) stars alongside the radiant Nimrat Kaur in Ritesh Batra's feature debut. In Mumbai, home to over 18 million people, more than 5,000 famously efficient dabbawallas — lunchbox couriers — navigate chaotic streets to deliver lunches, lovingly prepared by housewives, to working men across the city. It is a hereditary profession that has provided Mumbaikars with a taste of home in the office for 120 years.

The Dabbahwallahs are illiterate, and instead rely on a complex coding system of colours and symbols to deliver dabbas in the labyrinth that is Mumbai. Harvard University analyzed their delivery system, concluding that just 1 in 8 million lunchboxes is ever delivered to the wrong address. This is the story of that one lunchbox.

Ila (Kaur) is a young housewife living in a middle-class neighbourhood with a husband who ignores her and is trying to add some spice to her marriage through her cooking. Saajan (Khan) is a beaten down widower about to retire from his number-crunching job. After Ila realizes that Saajan is receiving the meals meant for her husband, the two begin sending each other letters through the lunchbox.

What starts as an innocent exchange about Ila's cooking gently develops into something more. Outside the space of their daily lives, both Ila and Saajan feel free to express themselves in new ways, leading them both to question how they might find happiness. Ila finds out her husband is having an affair and writes to Saajan about it, suggesting that she wants to move to Bhutan since the people there are known to be happy. The film moves into a game of cat and mouse and will they or won't they meet up as they build a fantasy world together through their notes.

The Lunchbox paints a nuanced portrait of life in contemporary Mumbai, effortlessly weaving themes of gender values, social class and generational differences into its core love story. Batra's beautifully penned characters — including Aslam (Nawazuddin Siddiqui), the eager trainee preparing to take over Saajan's job — and gentle, precise direction simply envelope you.

Whether it's the cooking of a meal, the reading of a letter, or the riding of a crowded train, the film's small moments culminate in big impact. The film is the story of the life we dream of versus the life we live in and of the courage it takes to turn fantasies into reality.

The Lunchbox was screens at International Critics' Week at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival, receiving a standing ovation and winning the Critics Week Viewers Choice Award, also known as Grand Rail d'Or. The director set out researching for a documentary on the famous lunchbox delivery system of Mumbai, however after spending a week with them in 2007 got to know many interesting personal stories they would overhear while waiting outside an apartment. Those overheard stories gave birth to the idea for the film. Instead of making a documentary, he began writing a film script.

The Lunchbox (subtitled, PG) is showing on April 24 at the Landmark Cinema 7 at 4 and 7 p.m. Also screening as part of the 2013 TIFF Student Showcase is Teamwork by Tor Aunet of Emily Carr University.

Tickets are available at the Penticton Art Gallery and The Book Shop. Pre-purchased single tickets are $13 and a limited number will be available for purchase at the door for $15 each.

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