The film set in Mumbai, revolves around a mistaken delivery in dabbawala (lunchbox service) of Mumbai, which leads to a relationship between an about to retire, Sudeep, also a lonely widower and an unhappy housewife, Ila as they start exchanging notes through the daily lunchbox.
Irrfan Khan as Sudeep
Nimrat Kaur as Ila
Denzil Smith as Mr. Shroff
Bharati Achrekar as Mrs. Deshpande
Yashvi Puneet Nagar
Ritesh Batra, who had made short films, The Morning Ritual, Gareeb Nawaz ki Taxi and Cafe Regular`, `Cairo, started working on the famous Lunchbox delivery system of Mumbai, dabbawala, known for their efficiency, however after spending a week with them he got to know of many interesting personal stories, this gave birth to the idea of the film, and instead of making the documentary he began writing a film script., and in time the film became joint production between Sikhya Entertainment, DAR motion pictures, National Film Development Corporation of India (NFDC), India, ROH Films, Germany, ASAP Films, France and the Cine Mosaic, US of Lydia Dean Pilcher who previously produced films like, The Talented Mr Ripley (1999) and The Namesake (2007), and Germany's Match Factory became its international sales agent.
Batra completed the first draft of the screenplay in 2011, it went on to win an Honorable Jury Mention at the 2012 Cinemart at the Rotterdam International Film Festival. Thereafter the project was part of the Talent Project Market of Berlin International Film Festival and was mentored at the screenwriter's lab (Torino Film Lab) at the Torino Film Festival. The character of Ila played Nimrat Kaur, six months prior to the shooting, and the character played by Nawazuddin Siddiqui was further developed and improvised during shooting,
Irrfan Khan liked the script and the concept of his character of not speaking much rather talking through notes, and after seeing Batra's short film, a couple of meetings he agreed to act in the film. Batra wanted to work with Nawazuddin Siddiqui, another principal character of the film, for a long time. For the female lead, auditions were conducted, wherein Nimrat Kaur was selected. Kaur had extensive experience at the Mumbai theatre and worked in films like Peddlers.
The film was shot in 2012 in Mumbai at a budget of $1.5 million. Prior to the filming, the cast rehearsed for six months. It was shot using the Arri Alexa digital film camera. Many of the scenes were logistically broken down to make way for last minute location changes. Mumbai's famous dabbawalas were provided actual lunchboxes to deliver, were followed by a four member film crew, which filmed the process in documentary style.
The film was screened on May 19, 2013 as a part of the International Critics' Week at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival, where it received a standing ovation and positive reviews. and won the Critics Week Viewers Choice Award also known as Grand Rail d'Or. Variety called it "a notable debut from tyro helmer-scripter", for creating a film with "crossover appeal of Monsoon Wedding", and also praised acting of Irrfan Khan and Nimrat Kaur.
Thereafter, Sony Pictures Classics picked up all North American rights for distribution.