Photograph: Still, Unsuspecting & Beautiful Visual Poetry
Movie Review by Trijai Nerthi (Rocheston Certified Movie Critic)
Directed by Ritesh Batra, Photograph is a romantic drama film starring Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Sanya Malhotra in lead roles. ‘Location’ plays a key role in Batra’s films. The lead characters are people you meet every day. Bollywood is always on the lookout for films that are larger than life. Stories like Gully Boy too start in his Gully and end with him on the stage. Now, there is nothing wrong with that, but there are stories that may never make it on to the stage. These are the stories that are many in number compared to the one in a million success stories that one gets to witness. Photograph is based on one such story that takes you through the life of ordinary men and women and how their status, financial strata, society, and many other aspects dictate the manner in which their lives span out.
Rafiullah (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) is a struggling street photographer who makes small amounts of money by taking pictures of people in front of touristy places around Mumbai. On one of the days he scouts the Gateway of India for clients, he comes across Miloni Shah (Sanya Malhotra), an introvert whose life is dictated by her middle-class family. Rafi convinces Miloni to encapsulate the moment when the wind is in her hair by getting herself photographed. She agrees, but when he turns to find a cover for her picture, she leaves without paying him. Soon, their paths cross again and they become involved in an unlikely situation that leaves them changed forever. This unexpected journey in which they find love forms the crux of the film.
I love the simplicity in Ritesh Batra’s films. The Indian film industry has people to tell the story of the underdog who rose to fame, there are people to tell stories of superstars. Stories for the wealthy and poor too make its way into the mainstream. But what about the people who take the electric train with you? What of the migrants who only see as far as Mumbai? What of the simpletons who yearn for a life in the countryside. This is where Ritesh Batra and his brand of films can be placed.
Just like his first feature film Lunchbox, in Photograph too, Mumbai plays a character. In the lives of Rafi and Miloni, it plays the antagonist. It brings them together and fills their heart with hope. But it also constantly reminds them of how extremely different they are. One moment, Rafi is desperately in search of a bottle of Campa Cola to impress Miloni and in another, he foresees an end date to this bond of theirs. Most of the realizations these characters meet with are driven by Mumbai. This manner of using location as a character brings to the story, the kind of intrigue that compliments the subtlety of the execution.
But if you are an impatient viewer, Photograph may tire you with its silence. The screenplay travels at its own pace and till the end, you are never shown the cards it plays. Your introduction to its characters and their background is limited too. So, when you don’t receive their dramatic reactions to the terrible situations they may be exposed too, chances are, the mainstream viewer in you might be disappointed. But I can say one thing for sure, Rafi, Miloni and the bond they share is bound to grow on you. You will look back at the moments they’ve shared a day or two after you watch the film.
As Raffiullah, Nawazuddin Siddiqui is an absolute dream. He encapsulates Rafi’s anger, love, sadness, and joy through subtle reactions that would almost go undetected if you don’t look closely. His eyes speak throughout the film. The way he sees Miloni for instance immediately lets you in on his feelings for her. In this manner, through a calm demeanor fighting a storm inside, Siddiqui brings to life, a calm and composed Rafi. As Miloni, Sanya Malhotra is terrific. This might be one of the few times that Hindi cinema has captured the personality of an introvert, realistically. In her scenes with Rafi’s grandmother, Sanya captures Miloni’s reluctance, joy and longing effortlessly. Her suffocation too is felt when she is around her family. Whenever Miloni converses with her house help, Sanya Malhotra outdoes herself by bringing to life her character’s yearning for a simple life. As Rafi’s grandmother, Farrukh Jaffar is brilliant. She captures her character’s unconditional affection, brutal honesty and fierce personality with earnestness. Her scenes and dialogues in the film are some of the most memorable moments.
The cinematography and editing in Photograph go a long way in making the film what it is. Each frame in the film is treated as a photograph with shots that go on longer and cuts seemingly few. This clarity and spotless execution add depth to the film. So, the credit for this lingering, unrushed and still visual treatment go to cinematographers Tim Gillis and Ben Kutchins.
On the whole, Photograph is the kind of film that grows on you. It makes bold statements on caste, economy, status, and education in a subdued manner. The film is the kind of visual poetry that is simply bound to grow better in time. If you love stories that take its own time to come together in their own form, Photograph is for you. If you are an impatient viewer, you might want to sit this one out.