Ritesh Batra’s “Photograph” is based on the present but yearns for the past. In the age of mobile phones, social media and fast-paced romances, Batra’s film harks back to Bollywood of the 70s, quaint romances and a Mumbai that is still stuck in time.
The problem with “Photograph” is that while the look might be retro, the events in the film are not, and the two elements when put together seem incongruous.
Miloni (Sanya Malhotra) is a meek student who doesn’t seem to have much going on in her life other than her Chartered Accountant exams. Her middle-class Gujarati parents cannot fathom that their daughter would want to do anything but study and marry a man of their choice. Ditto for Miloni.
A chance meeting with Rafiq (Nawazuddin Siddiqui), who makes a living by taking pictures of tourists, gives Miloni an escape from her dreary world. Rafi himself is looking to find a way to stop his grandmother from nagging him about finding a wife. He sends Miloni’s photograph to the old lady and says he’s in love with her. Miloni, looking for some adventure herself, agrees to keep up the charade, meeting his grandmother, humouring her, and finding herself inexplicably drawn to Rafiq.
But Batra’s world, full of coy glances, long taxi drives and clandestine movie dates at an old theatre, sweeps the realities of class differences under the carpet. Miloni, used to being waited on hand and foot at home (right down to a glass of milk served by a maid), seems blind to her privilege and Rafiq’s poverty, almost romanticizing it.
She dreams of living in a village, working in the fields and sleeping under a tree. She confesses her fantasy to her maid (Geetanjali Kulkarni), who is her one connection with the world that Rafi inhabits.
To her credit, Sanya Malhotra puts in a solid performance, pulling off the role of a shy, conservative student who wants to break free with aplomb. Siddiqui is not as accomplished, thanks to a stilted role that never quite gets hold of what Rafiq wants.
Unlike his earlier film “Lunchbox” (also about an unlikely romance), which became a surprise hit at the box office, Batra’s latest offering doesn’t quite hit the sweet spot.
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