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Saturday, December 2, 2023

LIFF 2019: Photograph Movie Review

Photograph, the poignant romance, had its English premiere showcased at the London Indian Film Festival.

The star-studded premiere was followed by a Q&A session with director Ritesh Batra.

Acting legend Nawazuddin Siddiqui plays Rafi, a humble street photographer outside the Gateway of India, Mumbai.

He photographs an attractive young wealthy woman Miloni (Sanya Malhotra), who disappears without paying.

Keeping her photo, he tries to fob off his marriage-peddling granny by sending her the photo to show his success, but impressed, she soon heads to Mumbai to meet the marriage prospect.

Rafi manages to track down Miloni and convince her to pretend to be his fiancée.

Partly intrigued by rough diamond Rafi’s request and because she’s looking for something extraordinary, she agrees.

Ritesh Batra’s ACE Cinematic Vision

From a rundown cinema to the transport, Ritesh Batra yet shoots amongst the raw, bustling locations in Mumbai.

By using natural sounds and authentic places, he romanticises the city in a subtle way which gives us a visceral feel of it.

In The Lunchbox, he showcased the life of the dabbawallas as well as the working middle-class. Yet again he follows suit.

The backdrop is quite similar here though we get to see more about the lifestyle of the photographers in Gateway of India.

As such, we again see an interfaith relationship but Batra thankfully does not give prominence to this aspect whatsoever.

It is so refreshing to see a story between two individuals of different religions without emphasising these aspects.

It is great to see a Hindi film without disparity being magnified.

One cannot help but admire Batra’s cinematic vision and his eye for detail within each frame.

The candid shots emphasise human emotions, bringing whatever is happening in the film to our attention.

By Miloni constantly looking at her photograph, it’s almost as if she is searching for her lost self.

Despite hailing from different milieus and cultures, we see parallels drawn between the two leading characters.

The common factor between here is this loneliness that engulfs them.

Parallel Themes of Infatuation and Imagination

As strange and (slightly) creepy as the film’s premise is, somehow Rafi’s lie to his grandmother adds an objective to their lives.

Through Miloni, Rafi imagines a utopian life, whilst she envisions a secret adventure and escapism from her monotonous, studious life.

Somehow, through Rafi and his grandmother, Miloni also finds the loving and she always seeks in her own family, which she does not have.

The themes of infatuation and imagination are prominent in this like The Lunchbox.

But having said that, he avoids any formulaic tropes of storytelling.

It’s interesting how Batra incorporated the Bollywood song ‘Noorie’ whilst Rafi ponders on the fictional name of Miloni.

This classic Hindi film reference also resembles the use of ‘Mere Dil Bhi’ song from Saajan.

Even the use of Teesri Manzil’s ‘Tumne Mujhe Dekha’ emphasises the sweetness and simplicity of the protagonists’ relationship.

These songs almost become like instrumental characters in the movie.

Excellent Cast Performances

Being a quasi-romantic story, the most essential factor is for the viewers to empathise with the characters… Which we do thanks to the performances.

Sanya Malhotra is brilliant in playing an ordinary, regular character. She does not take any drastic measures to make this performance standout, which is what works best.

Her subtle expressions, organic dialogue delivery and Gujarati accent are first-rate.

Nawazuddin Siddiqui seamlessly moulds into the role of Rafi.

It is great that his character is not a stereotypical lower-class individual who lives in Mumbai’s underbelly.

The silent chemistry shared between Malhotra and Siddiqui speaks volumes.

By chemistry, I mean this non-romantic attraction and fascination that both characters have towards each other.

The show-stealer here though is Farrukh Jaffar who portrays Rafi’s Dadi. Her hilarious feistiness and yet tender approach are admirable to watch.

It’s also interesting how additional side characters like the maid and apparition Tiwari (a man who committed suicide) – played by Vijay Raaz, are used as a way for the main characters to voice their consciousness.

Subsequently, Sachin Khedkar and Lubna Salim (as Miloni’s parents) are decent in supporting roles. 

It is a pleasant surprise to see Jim Sarbh as a shady Accounting tutor. Though his role is brief, it is effective.

What could be improved?

Whilst the film is convoluted and developed, the pace is painfully slow. It requires A LOT of patience to sit through and wait for the story’s conclusion.

By the second half, it seems as though the narrative gets stuck and repetitive with the same sequences of Miloni and Rafi continuously meeting.

Some viewers may find the movie’s ending quite confusing.

However, if one reads between the lines (especially in the dialogues), then it becomes clear that the conclusion is open to interpretation… Which is quite cleverly done. 

On the whole, Photograph is a fascinating and tender watch.

It is amongst the few Hindi films that have a male and female protagonist but is not a complete ‘romantic’ film, per se.

The movie’s rapidity is tediously slow which really speaking is the only deterrent… But otherwise, it’s a cinematic delight.

This one deserves a watch for Ritesh Batra’s creative vision and passion for good storytelling.

⭐⭐⭐ (3/5 stars)

Anuj Radia
Journalist and film enthusiast.

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