Photograph - review
by Wesley Kirkpatrick
"Less is more" is the mantra which the director of Photograph, Ritesh Batra, has chosen to follow ever since his directorial debut back in 2013 with the internationally-acclaimed The Lunchbox. Most people will be familiar with Batra's work through his two 2017 English-language follow-up films: Our Souls at Night and The Sense of an Ending. Whereas The Lunchbox was an international success, his later films have struggled to appeal to the critics. However, his latest film Photograph possesses characteristics that we have not seen since The Lunchbox, suggesting a return to form for Ritesh Batra.
Rafi (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) lives a reserved and unassuming life as a street photographer based at the historic site of the Gateway of India in the beautiful city of Mumbai. One day he takes the photograph of a shy stranger called Miloni (Sanya Malhotra), a young lady who fleas with the picture without paying. When Rafi’s grandmother, who is desperate for him to marry, decides to come visit he makes up a story about having a girlfriend and shows her the picture of Miloni. Rafi is thus forced to track her down and fake a relationship before his grandmother’s eyes.
With The Lunchbox, Ritesh Batra portrayed a bittersweet romance between his protagonists through the exclusive means of letters placed in a lunchbox. However unusual the nature of the protagonists’ relationship, Batra’s writing allowed the audience to believe in it and to become highly emotionally invested. It was very evident that Batra had not been in charge of the writing of his last two movies as this sweet-natured approach to a peculiar love interest that has now become his trademark was not present.
Watching Photograph, it is easy to distinguish Batra’s writing in his way of depicting his characters. His writing combined with terrific performances from Siddiqui and Malhotra allow for the portrayal of characters of a sensitive and delicate nature. Their relationship is so pure and innocent- and they are played with such reserve - that it appears as though they are worried of breaking each other if they touch. If this were anyone else writing this movie the characters would have been married and been physical by the end of the movie. However, as is now becoming Batra’s style, their relationship has barely advanced by the end of it (or at least in the conventional sense of the term ‘relationship').
Instead, they appear to find solace in each other’s innocence as they gradually appear to us as soulmates in their own unique way. Ritesh Batra writes such beautiful and sensitive relationships and characters that you cannot help but want him to write your own love story.Another indicator of this return to form is the beauty behind every shot throughout this movie. When giving press interviews for Our Souls At Night back in 2016, Batra claimed to be writing a movie “for [himself] in India, in Bombay”. The city of Mumbai becomes incredibly important within this movie, and it is apparent as the film goes on to what extent the director loves his home city of Mumbai. This can mainly be seen through the evolution of Rafi and Miloni’s relationship as throughout the movie they appear to develop both their perspectives on each other as well as their view on life in Mumbai.
The fact that Ritesh Batra has always managed to portray his protagonists with such realism whilst simultaneously retaining their likeability is only tribute to his genius. Whereas the characters of Rafi and Miloni take center-stage, Rafi's grandmother Dadi (Farrukh Jaffar) provides a refreshing comical element to the film which complements Rafi’s and Miloni's innocence perfectly. The character of Dadi not only initiates their relationship but also keeps it moving as it appears as though they seem incapable of doing so themselves due to their apparent timidity.If you are in the mood to watch a truly unique love story on the big screen where you will witness love blossom with angelic grace and innocence then I would highly recommend viewing Photograph at the Belmont Filmhouse with screenings from the 2nd to the 15th August.