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Photograph: A tender portrait of a Mumbai romance

 

PHOTOGRAPH
directed by Ritesh Batra

After making an international breakthrough with his charming debut, The Lunchbox, then reuniting Jane Fonda and Robert Redford in Our Souls at Night, Indian director Ritesh Batra returns to Mumbai as the setting for this gentle tale.

Although part romance and part comedy, Photograph is certainly no romcom. Village-born toiler Rafi (a superb Nawazuddin Siddiqui) takes snaps of tourists at the Gateway of India for 50 rupees a pop. One day, he makes his pitch to educated and beautiful Miloni (Sanya Malhotra), who accepts, poses while barely smiling, then wanders off without paying.

Rather than demanding his money, Rafi develops a shy crush on this girl. And the wooing that follows would barely pass as flirting these days: shrugging chats over chai and kulfi, a trip to the cinema, sitting in a park. Batra demonstrates that it is entirely possible to make a seductive love story without his leads even holding hands.

In this way, Photograph is traditional and conservative. It also deals with age-old concerns about fealty to elders, nostalgia for childhood frivolities and, above all, marriage (one sequence sees Rafi harangued by apparent strangers as to why he hasn’t tied the knot yet).

Batra composes the film with radical quietude, often observing his actors from a respectful distance. It is almost presented as a slice of life, set in Mumbai’s less salubrious quarters with the city’s endless thrum resounding in the background. Photograph is a warm, generous and tender work.

IN CINEMAS NOW

★★★★

This article was first published in the November 2, 2019 issue of the New Zealand Listener.