There are stories that remind you of ballads and grand dramatic backgrounds, and then there are stories that remind you of life as it is. Directed by Ritesh Batra, Photograph is one such story that lets you peek into an extraordinary bond between two ordinary strangers. Shot in the heart of Mumbai, you would expect something filmy like love at first sight, a head over heels in love hero and a heroine with family problems or some other cliché typical of a Bollywood love story. But that’s where the script surprises you. This is not your usual love story where the not-so-good-looking hero serenades the angelic heroine into leaving the world for him. This is a glance into the routine life of two people who meet in a city brimming with people and discover a relationship like none other amidst the hullabaloo of the busy streets of Mumbai.
Photograph is a poignant story of two contrasting characters. Miloni, played by Sanya Malhotra, is a character difficult to decode with her harrowing eyes and hauntingly empty smile. Rafi, portrayed by acclaimed actor Nawazuddin Siddiqui, is a struggling street photographer beaten by life to a toughness that is almost impossible to see through. The strange bond between the two is essentially due to a photograph unpaid for.
A colored piece of paper and almost non-existent conversations are the only key to understanding the beautiful yet unspoken relationship between the two very fascinating characters. The beauty of the storytelling by Batra is due to the very natural performances of the leads lacking the lustre and glamour of a dramatic Bollywood script. The absence of too many dialogues make it hard to comprehend the minds of the characters but it also makes you take a dive into their emotions that are so different yet feel so familiar.
Rafi is pressurized by his grandmother (Farrukh Jaffar) to get married which leads him to track down Miloni, who he calls Noori in his letters to his grandmother. In his desperation, he requests Miloni to play Noori and meet his grandmother. Jaffar’s acting feels very natural reminding you of your own childhood. Her comical portrayal of a pestering guardian almost makes you sympathize with the hero who is torn between the harsh reality of life and the dreamy aura of a married life.
Miloni is a studious middle class girl with a bright career waiting for her which compels you to ask yourself why is she entertaining the requests of a street photographer. These queries are answered subtly by Batra’s depiction of her life which is a set schedule of waking up, attending classes, coming home, having the usual supper and being wished good night by the house maid. It makes you wonder if this monotony is perhaps the reason behind Miloni’s bare mind. You can almost feel her escaping from the struggle of living empty through Rafi and her grandmother.
Typical of Batra’s direction, Photograph will remind you of his The Lunchbox (2013) which managed to give you a glimpse into the empty lives of two strangers trying to find that flicker of happiness with each other’s help. From the very beginning of the movie, you can expect that this is not a larger than life love story that will finish with the hero and heroine ending up together to a romantic song in the background. This is a tale of an unexpected meeting where two people find their missing pieces in each other and cherish the little things shared through the tough journey of life.
While some may feel that the story is slow moving due to the absence of dialogues, mostly it has its own poetic rhythm of a blank verse devoid of the sudden action and love songs expected of a Bollywood flick. Some weird parts in the movie leave you confused like the comical appearance of Tiwari’s ghost (Vijay Raaz) that is an unnecessary and almost impossible to digest detail from such a serious film. But gradually you understand that this is not an apparition but a mirror to Rafi’s own emotions that he seeks approval for. Rafi’s stubbornness in finding a bottle of Campa Cola for his beloved Noori fills you with awe of the sweet gesture. Satirical comments like “desh toh bada hai par desh ki memory bohot chhoti hai” bring you face to face with the reality of an ever-changing and impermanent world. Jim Sarbh’s appearance as Miloni’s teacher is another harsh face of the real life struggles of a girl subject to the desires to those unwelcome.
Filled with powerful performances and beautiful direction, Photograph is a real hymn of the people we pass through in flesh and blood every day but never notice. We will rate this 4 out of 5.