Two lives intersect in Mumbai and go along together. A struggling street photographer, pressured to marry by his grandmother, convinces a shy stranger to pose as his fiancée. The pair develops a connection that transforms them in ways that they could not expect. From Ritesh Batra (The Lunchbox).
User Reviews: There are scenes in Ritesh Batra’s Photograph that will make you lean away from you seat closer to the screen and anticipate something unconventional to happen. It is how the entire narrative is set up in this dull romantic drama that ends up making you dissatisfied.
Sanya Malhotra plays Miloni, an aspiring chartered accountant and a national rank hopeful who has been brought up with stricter customs than a soldier by her controlling parents. This is evident from the start to the point where the brilliant Sachin Khedekar (her father) also objects to her having street food because it caused her some gas problem during exam time. Watching Malhotra act as a taciturn young student brought back memories of my own time in college, which was only fueled by sequences involving the interactions with her coaching class teacher. There’a a sense of generality in Batra’s Miloni character that every student in Mumbai and elsewhere would relate happily with. But what they won’t with is how she visits the Gateway of India once, meets a Polaroid photographer Rafi (Nawazuddin Siddiqui), and starts an unusual connection with him. The foundation of this connection is cinematically flawed, played with some sly camera work that is apparent in plenty of sequences further in the film. Photograph emphasizes on this unusual relationship between Miloni and Rafi and drags itself like a writer would if he was running out of plot points.
Batra gets a lot of things right in Photograph, starting with Siddiqui’s typecast character of a migrant from Uttar Pradesh who is barely able to make ends meet while sending most of his hard-earned money back home to pay off his late father’s debts. The two central characters are a great study of a part of the Mumbai life, with the film sharing glimpses into the day-to-day activities of two such people from different walks of life. The third most substantial character – Rafi’s grandmother (Lubna Salim) – adds flavor and humor to the experience but ends up annoying a bit which Rafi does not care or worry about. And neither should you. It is this nonchalant performance that makes Siddiqui the most memorable in the film. But only if you ignore all the things that Batra gets wrong.
Using the successful approach that he used in five years ago to international glory, his story feels forceful at times, aggravated by the awful editing work. I’m still wondering how Photograph even made it to the global festivals with that abrupt style of editing where I felt scenes were cut and joined using mid-20th-century technology. The production value is low but it still describes the Mumbai life in a good manner that you would be happy to ignore when you have bigger problems to worry about. The pacing, the dialogues, the screenplay – all give you an impression that this was made in haste. Apart from the inconsequential yet welcome element of magical realism, there is nothing much that makes Photograph a lovable experience. And add to that the abrupt climax suggested with a mockery of a non-linear screenplay tactic, I’m sure you will end up more dissatisfied than I was.
There is not much else to talk about the cast performance either because while Malhotra seems to be totally in her mostly silent character, it is Siddiqui who uses his mostly silent character to be loud enough. She is good with expressions but she repeats them a thousand times when her MIloni meets Rafi, often traveling in a taxi-cab, going to places where she shouldn’t be, and talking to people her parents would mind her talking to. She tries to diligently follow Batra’s cues but I am not impressed as much as I am with the actors that play Rafi’s happy-go-lucky friends-cum-roommates. Geetanjali Kulkarni is another cast member who acted like she was living the character of Miloni’s household maid, which gives Batra another minor subplot to infuse the ‘feel good’ elements into his otherwise dreary feature.
Photograph is a film that almost feels like (a follow-up to) Batra’s critically acclaimed The Lunchbox (2013). Two strangers meeting unconventionally in a fast city trying to criticize the fastness of the same city. The comparison may not be fair because no two films are same. But then again Batra’s latest feature attempts to break that notion. TN.
Originally appeared in the Little India Directory (Singapore).