Ritesh Batra excels at slow-burn romance and proves this once again in Photograph. Returning to his native Mumbai after several English-language projects, his latest film draws on the foundation of his 2013 hit The Lunchbox and creates another memorable example of what he does best.
As the title suggests, it’s a photograph which jumpstarts the plot of this film: Rafi (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) takes pictures at the Gateway of India monument, printing them instantly to make beautiful memories last – for all those willing to pay his price. Here he meets Miloni (Sanya Malhotra), whose picture he later uses to let his grandmother know he has a girlfriend. In a nice twist of the traditional narrative, it isn’t the female protagonist who gets pestered about marriage, but Rafi, whose single status concerns all those around him.
When grandmother Dadi (Farrukh Jaffar) inevitably travels to the big city to meet her future granddaughter-in-law, Rafi first finds Miloni among the city’s population of 18 million people, and also manages to convince her to pose as his girlfriend. Ignoring the fact that this stunt involves a fair bit of stalking, what develops out of their renewed acquaintance is a sweet and subtle romance. Despite – or because – of their differences in class and cultural backgrounds, Rafi and Miloni begin to fall in love with each other as they spend more and more time together, soon abandoning the pretence of acting this out for Dadi’s sake.
While the far-fetched setup can easily be traced to Bollywood inspiration, Photograph, stripped of the music and dancing, convinces with its tenderness and portrayal of a romance that never progresses further than holding hands onscreen. In fact, Batra ends his film where many others are only beginning: the love story is preserved in all its innocent sweetness.
CAST: Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Sanya Malhotra, Farrukh Jaffar
DIRECTOR: Ritesh Batra
WRITER: Ritesh Batra
SYNOPSIS: A struggling Mumbai street photographer pressured
to marry by his grandmother convinces a shy stranger to pose as his fiancée during a family visit.