PHOTOGRAPH – A Review by Cynthia Flores
Nowadays, most romance films are loud, fast, vulgar, and funny. Like a picture that is drawn and splattered with bright neon paint. This sweet new film Photograph, however, paints the story in watercolors instead. Taking its time to introduce us to its two main characters, Rafi (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) and Miloni (Sanya Malhotra). They live in different worlds in the bustling city of Mumbai in India, but both have their lives planned out for them by others. Both are pressured to fulfill the roles that society has laid out for them despite their hesitation.
These two people could not be any more different by Indian societal rules. Rafi is a struggling, hardworking street photographer in the big city. He grew up poor as a farmer in a small village with his beloved grandmother (Farrukh Jaffar) or Dadi as it is said in Hindi. Now he lives in an inferior and humble room with several other male roommates. Sending most of his pay back home to take care of Dadi and pay off an old family debt.
Miloni is a top student and eligible for marriage to the right man her family will help choose. She was raised in the big city in an upper-middle-class family with a live-in servant. By chance, Rafi meets Miloni by a tourist attraction and convinces her to let him take her picture for her to buy. Before she can pay for it, she runs off to rejoin her family that she has wandered away from.
He feels ripped off, but at the same time, he’s captivated by the image of Miloni that he has taken. So he decides to use a copy of it in a letter he wrote to Dadi. He tells Dadi that he’s found someone in the city so she doesn’t need to worry any longer and will retake her medicine. You see Dadi was refusing her medication until Rafi got married as his two sisters had done already. She is always pressuring him to find a suitable match. Everything would have worked out fine with Rafi’s plan except that now Dadi is coming for a visit to meet the woman her Rafi has chosen.
In a country of over one billion people and a city of over eighteen million citizens, what are the odds that Rafi can find this woman again? Well, this is a romance movie, so a little magic happens and he sees her face on a billboard praising her as the number one student at her business school. With this luck, Rafi tracks her down and asks a huge favor in payment for the picture he took. He asks Miloni to pretend to be his and meet with Dadi just once so she can be satisfied. This is a huge ask or favor for a supposed “nobody” to present to an educated upper-class person. They are both surprised that she agrees to the deception.
Once Miloni meets Dadi and spends time with them both she is taken aback by the evident love and affection between Rafi and Dadi. She is also drawn in by the touching stories Dadi tells of living in the village and raising Rafi and his two sisters by herself after his parents died. In her attempt to be kind to this man and his Dadi, Miloni learns about a different segment of society that she has no contact with except through her beloved family maid. So instead of just the one meeting, Miloni asks Rafi if she can meet with them again. And so it begins, a sweet friendship that slowly turns into something more.
Photograph is written and directed by one of my favorite contemporary filmmakers, Ritesh Batra. He’s a brilliant writer and director of such hit films as The Lunchbox and Our Souls At Night. Ritesh has a talent for making personal movies that shine a light on the human condition of love and connection in a busy, fast-paced world. His character’s ring true and in his newest offering, you can’t help but fall in love as well with Rafi, Miloni and his beloved Dadi. Photograph is a must-see film that I give an A+ rating. I expect to see it pop up on best of lists for 2019 later this year.
Directed by Ritesh Batra
Written By Ritesh Batra
Selig Rating A+
Running Time 1hr 50min
Limited to wide Release May 24th Landmark Magnolia, AMC Grapevine Mills
Starring: Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Sanya Malhotra, Farrukh Jaffar
The Selig Rating Scale:
A – Excellent movie, well worth the price.
B – Good movie
C – OK movie
D – No need to rush. Save it for a rainy day.
F – Good that I saw it on the big screen but wish I hadn’t paid for it.