An Indo-US-German coproduction set in Mumbai, Photograph is a wistful exploration of a tentative love between two unlikely people, Rafi and Miloni.
Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Sanya Malhotra in a still from Photograph.
Ritesh Batra’s Photograph, starring Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Sanya Malhotra, opened at the Berlin Film Festival on February 13, ahead of its scheduled India release on March 15. Zoya Akhtar’s Gully Boy and Photograph, both premiering at the Berlinale, represent two extremes of “Bollywood”-Bambaiwalla Bollywood and the international arthouse Bollywood. Photograph, while resolutely arthouse, co-opts Bollywood’s music, its romantic fantasies, and its favourite trope-the hand of destiny that changes your romantic fate.
An Indo-US-German coproduction set in Mumbai, Photograph is a wistful exploration of a tentative love between two unlikely people, Rafi and Miloni. Rafi is a cynical Gateway of India walla photographer, while Miloni is a relatively affluent student, a topper in a national chartered accountancy examination. He takes a photograph of her at the Gateway, and when his granny hassles him to get married, he persuades Miloni to pose as his fiancée to fob off his granny. A hesitant romance blossoms. It’s a kind of Roman Holiday in Mumbai-an affluent girl discovering the joys of slumming it with a street photographer, enjoying gola, pyaaz ke pakode and Campa Cola.
Six years after the remarkable global success of The Lunchbox in 2013, Photograph marks Batra’s return to filming in Mumbai (he made two high-profile English features in between). Like The Lunchbox, Photograph is both a charming evocation of love and a love letter to Mumbai. While cinematographers Ben Kutchins and Timothy Gillis lovingly evoke an atmospheric Mumbai, editor John F. Lyons is unobtrusive. Siddiqui and Malhotra are superb leads in this slow-burn romance. The screenplay has delightful touches of humour, with a feisty granny played by Farrukh Jaffar and a lovely Geetanjali Kulkarni as the maid.
However, the film is puzzling and fails to convince us why an accomplished, well-off young woman, feisty enough to turn down a potential NRI groom, falls in love with a photographer who ekes out a living on Rs 50 a photo. A crucial plot point, her agreeing to pose as a stranger’s fiancée, is never shown. So this arthouse film is, in fact, rooted in Bollywood’s impossible romantic fantasies and yet, it is also a distilled, meta film about falling in love with the image of someone-a tricky combination.
Writer Meenakshi Shedde is the South Asia consultant to the Berlin Film Festival and an independent film curator and critic. She can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org