- Film & TV
- 07 Aug 19
Two strangers meet, and in a series of coincidences, happenstance and machinations, are not only reunited, but forced to pretend to be in love to fool the people around them. Slowly, over time, these fake feelings of romance become real as our two characters fall in love. This isn’t an original story – indeed, it’s a well-worn trope of Western rom-coms and Bollywood love stories. But Ritesh Batra (The Lunchbox, Our Souls At Night) knows this. He also knows that sometimes the power lies not in the story, but the telling, and so he imbues Photograph with an impressive stillness and realism.
Rafi (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) and Miloni (Sanya Malhotra) are both struggling to find meaning in their lives, and are facing increased pressure from their elders. Miloni’s parents want her to move to America to study, while Rafi’s guilt-tripping grandmother (a delightfully pushy Farrukh Jaffar) constantly, publicly wails about the fact that he hasn’t yet married. After a chance meeting, Rafi asks Miloni to pose as his beloved – and the expected unfolds.
Set in Mumbai, Batra and cinematographers Tim Gillis and Ben Kutchins capture the kinetic, hectic, restless atmosphere of the city streets; the food vendors, reckless drivers, Rafi’s struggle to sell photographs to tourists. The detail of their observation is beautiful and understated, creating a lived-in realism that few directors can capture onscreen. This delicate specificity is also evident in the characters’ interactions that illustrate how gender, class and caste systems shape their worlds, such as Rafi’s attempts to pay off his father’s debts, Miloni’s interactions with her housekeeper, and comments about Rafi’s darker skin.
But when it comes to his star-crossed lovers, Batra may over-rely on observation rather than expression. The two characters are so reserved and timid – and in Miloni’s case, passive – that their interactions feel passionless. Batra also keeps important courtship moments offscreen, leaving the audience at a distance. A film about looking that doesn’t quite touch us.