Photograph

 

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An attempt to engage an audience with an offbeat love story touched by humour.

 

Photograph

Sanya Malhotra and Nawazuddin Siddiqui

 

It was just over five years ago that Ritesh Batra triumphed with his very first feature. That was The Lunchbox set in Mumbai and its romantic tale warmed the hearts of many including some who rarely go to see subtitled movies. I myself became somewhat resistant to its charms when contrivances set in to ensure that, whatever loneliness was portrayed en route, it ended up as a feel-good film. With Photograph Batra once again has both the writing and the directing credits and it finds him returning to the city of Mumbai and to foreign language cinema. He does so to tell another love story, and it strikes one as a very conscious effort to repeat the formula that made The Lunchbox so successful. In the event, my resistance is stronger by far this time, but that could be a matter of taste although I am inclined to doubt it.

 

Photograph starts with a street photographer, Rafi (Nawazuddin Siddiqui), taking a picture of a passing girl, Miloni (Sanya Malhotra), a student preparing at the behest of her comfortably-off family to become a chartered accountant. Rafi then learns that his grandmother, Dodi (Farrukh Jaffar), is so disturbed by the fact that he has not yet married that she is refusing to take medication. To overcome that, Rafi sends her the photograph claiming that the girl in it is his girlfriend. Granny’s response is to travel to Mumbai to meet the impending bride and that means that Rafi has to track down Miloni and ask her to play the part. She agrees, of course, because otherwise there would be no film. It could be claimed that the reason is that it had been a case of love at first sight, but why this attractive girl (Malhotra has very appealing looks) should be drawn to a man in his forties of no special charm and doing the job that he does in order to pay off family debts is a total mystery.

 

The improbable tale might work if it was the basis of a farce but, despite some rather heavy-handed comic touches (as when everybody’s knowledge about Dodi’s stand regarding medication is made into a running gag), references to poverty by the likes of Miloni’s sympathetic maid (Geetanjali Kulkarni) suggest a drama. If these elements are in conflict, the film is no more sure-footed in finding ways to fill out its running time of 109 minutes. At one point, Miloni’s family suddenly introduce a potential husband for her as though to add some dramatic weight, but in no time at all it is dropped. Later, a tale which for all its improbabilities has been presented naturalistically introduces a ghost (Vijay Raaz) into the proceedings. As for old Dodi, Farrukh Jaffar may look the part but she quite lacks the engaging spirit displayed by the late Zohra Segal in a number of films made by Gurinder Chadha. Furthermore, the fact that Rafi although a grown man should kowtow totally to the old woman even to the extent of producing a pretend girlfriend is yet another reason why he is not somebody for whom we can root. Instead, for all Miloni’s growing interest in him, we feel that she could and should do better. And that’s also how I feel about Batra and his film.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Sanya Malhotra, Farrukh Jaffar, Geetanjali Kulkarni, Vijay Raaz, Jim Sarbh, Akash Sinha, Saharsh Kumar Skukla, Amarjeet Singh, Shree Dhar Dubey, Sachin Khedekar, Lubna Salim, Brinda Trivedi.

 

Dir Ritesh Batra, Pro Ritesh Batra, Ronnie Screwvala, Viola Fügen, Neil Kopp, Michel Merkt, Vincent Savino, Anish Savjani and Michael Weber, Screenplay Ritesh Batra, Ph Ben Kutchins and Timothy Gillis, Pro Des Shruti Gupte, Ed John F.Lyons, Music Peter Raeburn, Costumes Niharika Bhasin.

 

Amazon Studios/The Match Factory/Poetic License/Filmscience/Pola Pandora/KNM/Skywalk Films-Curzon Artificial Eye.
109 mins. USA/India/Germany. 2018. Rel: 2 August 2019. Cert.15.