Director: Ritesh Batra
Writer: Ritesh Batra
Starring: Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Sanya Malhotra, Sachin Khedekar
Genre: Drama/ Romance
Pressured by his grandmother to get married, a struggling street photographer named Rafi (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) convinces a shy stranger named Miloni (Sanya Malhotra) to pose as his pretend fiancé so to please his grandmother. However, while acting out the façade for his grandmother the pair develop a connection that transforms them in ways they did not expect.
I have if course just reviewed Yesterday, which is a shameless cliché-ridden genre piece with a sole narrative focus on a romance between two individuals. Well, films like Photograph are timely reminders that there are films out there that also contain this same narrative, but actually try and avoid the obvious clichés, and in doing so are for more emotionally engaging and rewarding experiences.
Though there is of course a certain amount of coincidence, chance and slight narrative convenience to what happens to the two protagonists in Photograph, instead of becoming an annoying contrivance, Batra skilfully incorporates that into the film’s main themes. These themes indeed include the fact that what happens in our lives, who we meet and how we meet is often down to sheer chance and coincidence. Sheer coincidence is the reason why Rafi and Miloni first meet, and their subsequent relationship that develops all starts from Rafi telling a lie to a family member.
Once again, in isolation this sounds very cliched, but due to the subtlety and brutal honesty that Batra examines these themes and concepts within the narrative, everything just feels far more believable and realistic. Throughout the narrative there is this unavoidable feeling of melancholy, isolation and loneliness that surrounds each of the two protagonists, and even when they are together in the same scene, these feelings are still very much prevalent.
It is indeed in the subtlety of the performances and the themes that the narrative examines that Batra manages to produce such an engaging film. This is indeed a film that often keeps its cards very close to its chest; there is a reliance on simple glances, facial expression or body language to convey to the audience what the main characters are thinking or feeling. Likewise, the character development is appropriately minimal; as the audience gets to know the two protagonists and their respective life stories at the same rate as the get to know each other, we cannot help but share some of the emotions that they do and also have exactly the same questions. Some of these questions get answered, while some do not, but it all seems abundantly clear that Batra remains very much in control of his film and he teaches the same harsh lesson to the audience that both the protagonists experience; some of life’s most pressing questions do not actually ever get answered. Photograph is a film that has a profound sense of melancholy throughout its narrative without ever feeling purely miserable for the sake of it, it simply captures the basic human condition of occasionally feeling isolated and alone.
The performances from both Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Sanya Malhotra are suitable low key and subtle, with both capturing the loneliness that they feel in their respective lives. Though most of the audience may not be able to quite empathise with the exact circumstances of their lives, thanks to the skilful and melancholic tone of the film and the subtleness of the performances, we can easily relate to how they are feeling. Until the film’s very end we cannot help but be utterly engaged with the developing relationship between the two protagonists, but Batra skilfully avoids the clichéd narrative trappings that most films eventually fall into, and it produces an ending that feels tonally appropriate, as well as a viewing experience that will linger long in the memory. My only criticism is that that film perhaps sugar coats a little too much its view of the world; while it perfectly captures the melancholy and loneliness that the human condition produces, it seems to intentionally avoid the brutal and unforgiven nastiness that can also be found in the real world at times. Everything always feels very innocent and nice, and though the film’s two main characters may well fit into this category, the world of which they live is undoubtedly not so innocent or nice, but Batra seems to avoid this.
An old-fashioned love story that skilfully manages to avoid the usual narrative trappings of such a genre; Photograph is a deeply engaging, thoughtful and memorable film with certain moments that will linger long in the memory.