Photograph movie cast: Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Sanya Malhotra, Farrukh Jaffar
Photograph movie director: Ritesh Batra
Photograph movie rating: Two stars
In the span of six years and four feature films (Photograph being the fourth and the latest), Ritesh Batra has become India’s first genuine crossover filmmaker, with his work being feted both at home and overseas.
2013 film The Lunchbox, in which a middle-aged office drone and a young housewife form a heartwarming bond, proved that Batra was skilled at creating relatable characters who endeared themselves to us with their yearning for connection. We could see us in them.
After doing two films, The Sense Of An Ending and Our Souls At Night, Batra returns to Mumbai with Photograph, with one more addition to his signature theme: two unlikely strangers finding a spark in each other. But this tale, about a street-side photographer Rafi (Siddiqui), and Miloni (Malhotra), a student of accountancy from an upper middle-class home, is a letdown, coming together only in moments.
In one of the most telling scenes in the film, the painfully shy Miloni describes herself in a photograph, taken by Rafi: ‘woh ladki mujhse zyada khush lag rahi thi, aur mujhse zyada sundar’. It is the kind of clear-eyed appraisal of the self that is rarely articulated in our self-absorbed cinema, and that moment instantly gains weight: a photograph can be worth more than a thousand words.
The lines exchanged between Rafi and Miloni, and Rafi’s loud grandmother (Jaffar), for the most part, state the obvious. What should have been a delicate, whimsical knitting of feelings, turns banal. Siddiqui struggles to make something of his Rafi, with his dead-end job as an insta-photographer, capturing tourist custom at the Gateway of India. Malhotra’s reserved young woman is never quite credible: her impassiveness doesn’t allow us to see inside of her, and her breakthrough moment comes only when she smiles.
Jaffar’s ‘dadi’ is meant to be a character, the kind of plain-speaking, tetchy elderly type who is lovable underneath all that crust. She is over-used. And in all this, we never quite understand what it is that draws these two vastly different people, with religion and class dividing them, together. Yes, their meeting is happenstance, but the build-up feels constructed and facile.
A tiny cameo by Vijay Raaz illustrates what this film needed more of: a touch of whimsy, a kind of magic. More of this, wrapped in Mohd Rafi’s honeyed voice (yes, that’s why Siddiqui is named Rafi) which wafts over the film, would have made this odd couple romance much more believable.